Rescuing Delaware’s Schools
The Rodel Foundation dove in more than 10 years ago. Its leaders say they won’t give up until Delaware’s education system becomes a model for the world.
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With his retirement from Rodel, Bill, now 71, could have settled into his new Colorado home and put his Delaware chapter behind him. But instead he and his family resolved to give back to the community, pledging at least a third of their profit from the sale of Rodel toward that effort. “We spent time researching how to give in a way that would be most effective,” Bill says, “and we decided that the most important thing for the future of this country is an educated citizenry.
Budinger himself is the product of Illinois public schools. Schools, he says, were different back then.
“The educational system in the United States used to be the best in the world. But today we as a nation face the real prospect that our children will be less educated than we are.”
While the academic achievements of American children have been slipping, he says, other industrialized countries have been investing more in education and outperforming us on standardized tests and graduation rates. “That should alarm us. We won’t be able to compete in a global world if our kids are out-educated,” he says.
Budinger had no illusions about school reform being easy. He knew how many others had failed, but Budinger is not one to give up easily. An inventor with 36 patents to his credit, Budinger has always been dedicated to finding solutions. Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, chairman of Vision 2015, calls Budinger “one of the most creative, visionary people I know. He always looks for a way to get things done and always has ambitious goals.”
There are currently two Rodel Foundations working on school reform. The other is in Arizona, another former site of Rodel Inc. operations. Each got their start with $40 million from the Budingers. The Foundation’s annual outlay in Delaware has been $2 million to $5 million, according to Paul Herdman, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.
Bill, Don and Susan are founding directors of both foundations. Connie Bond Stuart, president of PNC Bank, Delaware, chairs the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, while Don, who lives in Arizona, chairs that organization. (A third foundation, the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Key West, is no longer run or funded by the Budingers. )
“For Bill, this is very personal,” Herdman says. “He was able to use his education in such a way as to build a business and raise a family. He was part of the Greatest Generation. He came from simple means and started a business that he grew from nothing to a multinational business. He sees supporting education as the highest and best use of his money.”
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