By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A school district in the town named for chocolate king Milton Hershey went to court on Thursday to argue that his sweet dream of funding education was ignored by a foundation that has instead spent millions on entertainment.
The Derry Township School District said in a document filed in Orphans Court of Dauphin County that the founder of The Hershey Chocolate Company had local schools in mind when he included money for educational purposes in a will written before he died in 1945.
Instead, the Milton S. Hershey Foundation has used over $9 million from 2003 and 2008 to pay for entertainment venues such as the Hershey Museum, Hershey Gardens and Hershey Archives, the school district said.
Barely a drop of the riches have gone to the school district, which has received a total of $25,000 since the 1960s, the court papers said.
The school district maintains that if Hershey's wishes were properly honored it would be receiving at least $300,000 and perhaps as much as $1 million per year. The district's annual budget is about $50 million, and the money could help to buy laptops for high school students and make physical improvements to the middle school, school officials said.
The legal struggle unfolded against the backdrop of a ubiquitous Hershey presence in the township, including street lights shaped like Hershey Kisses, gardens mulched with chocolate-smelling cocoa bean shells, and a luxurious spa at the Hotel Hershey that features cocoa facials and whipped cocoa baths.
The town is also home to the Milton Hershey School, a private academy that educates 1,800 children in social and financial need.
School officials said the 3,600-student public school district did not raise taxes recently because of taxpayer pressure to hold the line and receives only about 30-40 percent of its budget from the state.
Donald Papson, executive director of the foundation, said Thursday that it disagrees with the definition of deserving educational recipients in the court papers.
Papson also said that the school district gets an additional $1.8 million from a separate Hershey trust each year. He said the payments from the foundation to the district were dropped in 1967 when the state recalculated the education aid formula, and the board at that time felt the state money was sufficient for the district.
In a separate, unrelated investigation of another Hershey branch, the state attorney general is looking into how millions of dollars were spent for several land deals in the last several years. That probe began in 2010 when now Governor Tom Corbett was the attorney general.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)