Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Schools' shortfall creates an activist


‘In my wildest dreams, I thought we could get $50,000 in donations,' says Bill Pilliod, at Walters' Flowers and Gifts. He and several friends organized a campaign that raised $107,006 in less than a week to save Swanton students' extracurricular activities.

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Swanton students participating in extracurricular activities this winter and spring have hundreds of people to thank for the donations.

They also have Bill Pilliod.

Mr. Pilliod and several friends organized a campaign that raised $107,006 in less than a week to preserve the activities after the district's operating levy failed for the third time.

Now they are trying to reinstate some activities that had been dropped, including field trips for children in grades 1 through 6.

Mr. Pilliod, whose son played football at Swanton this fall and wants to run track in the spring, said he's never liked being involved in fund-raisers, but this one was heartwarming.

“It makes me very proud to be a resident out here,” he said.

Mr. Pilliod played football, basketball, and golf at Swanton High School, graduating in 1972. He had a year of business school at Davis College in Toledo before joining the family business, Pilliod Cabinet Co.

That company was sold to a New York firm in the 1980s, and Mr. Pilliod and his brother Peter Pilliod bought Progressive Furniture in 1989. It was sold to Sauder Woodworking Co. in 2001.

Mr. Pilliod retired at the end of 2001, after the buyout was complete. He bought Walters' Flowers and Gifts, on Airport Highway in Swanton, that June. His fianc e, Camille Waller, runs the shop, and Mr. Pilliod does accounting.

“I'd had enough furniture,” he said.

It's also more relaxing than running a $100 million company, he said.

This fall he focused on the schools and he worried about what would happen to Swanton if the extracurricular activities were cut.

If students transferred to other districts, Swanton would lose state aid and might lay off more teachers, Mr. Pilliod said.

Families might move out of the community, driving prices and property values down. That would in turn decrease funding for the schools even more, Mr. Pilliod said.

“The more we got talking, the more bad things we saw happening to the school,” he said.

Mr. Pilliod and his friends thought that at a meeting the Thursday after the election, the school board members would announce that they were cutting the extracurricular activities.

Mr. Pilliod and his friends called a meeting of their own and worked out a way to save them with donations.

The district needed $100,000 to $125,000 to cover the supplemental pay that teachers get for extracurricular activities, from 4 to 20 percent of their usual pay, Mr. Pilliod said.

“In my wildest dreams, I thought we could get $50,000 in donations,” he said.

He thought they could get $10,000 by instituting pay-to-play fees and the rest from reducing the supplemental pay.

The group started with a half-dozen volunteers and picked up more along the way. They put collection jugs in stores. Waitresses asked their customers for pledges.

“We didn't leave a stone unturned,” Mr. Pilliod said.

In the end they collected enough to keep the activities alive without extra fees or cuts in supplemental pay.

School Board President Bill Green praised Mr. Pilliod for his successful efforts.

“He is a community member that really stepped up and headed up a community group that generated enough to support the extracurricular activities for the school system,” Mr. Green said. “Our situation was that we were not going to be able to fund any extracurricular winter or spring activities. He and a number of people in town are very supportive of the school system.”

There is one more fund-raiser on Dec. 9 at Damon's on Airport Highway.

But Mr. Pilliod is still concerned about next year. The levy will be back on the ballot in March.

“I had a little longer-term vision than that,” he said. “I can't do this again.”

But he's not quitting now. The levy committee meets Dec. 3, and he plans to be there. “I'd like to become more involved,” he said. “We're at stage critical.”

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