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ASC to fund student field trips after gift from Howard Levine

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T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Howard Levine outside Family Dollar headquarters in Matthews.

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Field trips to historic and cultural sites for more than 20,000 Mecklenburg students were restored Wednesday after a $100,000 donation from Howard Levine, chairman and CEO of Family Dollar.

With less than a week to go before the academic year starts, Levine gave the donation to the Arts & Science Council for the trips, which were jeopardized when the ASC was unable to underwrite them as it had for the last few years because of a shortfall in its annual giving campaign.

Coupled with a $50,000 grant from the ASC, the Levine gift will underwrite transportation and other costs for third-graders to go to Historic Latta Plantation, Historic Rosedale, Rural Hill, Charlotte Museum of History or the James K. Polk State Historic Site. Also restored under the gift are fifth-grade trips to Opera Carolina, Charlotte Ballet and Charlotte Symphony in “Endless Possibilities” at the Belk Theater.

In all, about 22,000 students will benefit from the experiences. But field trips for sixth-graders to Discovery Place and a program to bring Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s Tarradiddle Players to elementary schools were not covered by the gift and may not occur this year unless about $80,000 more is found.

Levine challenged the community to step up and help pay for the remaining educational experiences.

“I know that for many students, these field trips might be the only opportunity they get to experience Charlotte’s world-class cultural offerings or learn about its rich history,” Levine said. “My hope is that others understand the importance of educational programs like this, and become inspired to contribute as well – either monetarily or with their time.”

Robert Bush, president of the ASC, thanked Levine for his generosity. “Suspending the field trips was not an easy decision to make and restoring them remained ASC’s top priority should we receive funding,” Bush said in a statement.

In Charlotte, the Levine name is synonymous with philanthropy. Levine is the son of Leon Levine, who with his wife, Sandra, has given away millions through their family foundation to schools, museums, hospitals, the facilities that comprise Shalom Park and nonprofits assisting at the needy.

Levine is the name is on at least two dozen buildings in the Carolinas, and was affixed to the uptown cultural campus between South Tryon and Church streets – the Levine Center for the Arts – made possible by a $15 million end-of-campaign gift from the Levines to help underwrite the project.

Howard Levine’s profile is also growing in Charlotte philanthropy. He gave a $250,000 challenge gift to the American Red Cross that brought in another $500,000 from two donors, and his foundation pledged $500,000 to UNC to underwrite Jewish studies.

This donation to ASC comes at a turbulent time for Levine’s business. Family Dollar is weighing two competing bids to buy its business. Last month, Virginia-based Dollar Tree offered to buy Matthews-based Family Dollar in an $8.5 billion deal. Since then, Tennessee-based Dollar General has come in with a higher bid, at $9.7 billion, sparking a potential bidding war. The new offer also throws Levine’s future with the company into question, though his ownership stake could be worth as much as $730 million.

Temporary solutions

Field trips to the historic, scientific and cultural sites had been part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget until 2009, when it was cut after the full impact of the recession was felt in Charlotte.

As a temporary solution, ASC, with major donors Wells Fargo and Bank of America, came up with $338,000 annually to pay for the expeditions. This year, the ASC’s annual drive raised $800,000 less than its target of $6.9 million and the ASC announced in July it could not pay for the trips, which last year benefited more than 51,000 Mecklenburg students in the three grades.

Part of last year’s program involved bringing sixth-graders to Discovery Place to study robotics and other STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

A drive was launched by the Charlotte Regional History Consortium to raise money for the historical trips after the ASC said it would not be paying for the trips this year, but it raised less than $1,000. David Perlmutt, Ely Portillo and Andrew Dunn contributed.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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