Mayor gets $50 million for schools

Times Staff Writers

A South Bay real estate developer and his wife announced Wednesday that they would donate $50 million to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign to run a group of public schools in what is believed to be the largest private gift to the school system.

Richard and Melanie Lundquist plan to give $5 million a year over 10 years to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization established by Villaraigosa to oversee two high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them starting as soon as July 2008.

The money, and future donations, could prove a powerful incentive for schools to join the mayor’s plans -- each school community must vote to opt in. His office has launched a sometimes rocky campaign to build support among teachers and parents, some of whom are leery because of antagonism spawned by his unsuccessful effort to gain direct control over the Los Angeles Unified School District through the Legislature.


The announcement, in the library of Gratts Elementary School near downtown, also provided Villaraigosa with a compelling kickoff to what he hopes will be a sweeping fundraising campaign, one in which Melanie Lundquist said she would play a leading role.

The Lundquists, who made their fortune in commercial real estate, said they have no business interests before the city or school district, and were motivated only by a desire to improve a system they each attended 40 years ago. He graduated from Narbonne High School in Harbor City; she attended Grant High in Van Nuys.

“This gift is given solely from the heart because we love children,” Richard Lundquist said during a ceremony staged with 19 third-graders and a giant ceremonial check that he and his wife signed.

But the funds come with a condition: The schools must show progress on several fronts, including test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, safety, parent satisfaction and other measures still to be determined

“This money is going to be spent with great thought and conscience,” Melanie Lundquist said. “It will flow as long as the performance is there.”

The donated funds are expected mainly to benefit schools that enlist in the mayor’s “partnership” plan. The schools have yet to be selected.


Villaraigosa said that schools in the partnership can likely expect expanded training for teachers and administrators, a renewed emphasis on pre-kindergarten services and additional after-school programs. Materials provided by his office cited other likely incentives, including bonuses for teachers who work in “hard-to-hire schools,” increased instructional time and more college preparation programs.

The Lundquist gift alone won’t go that far if spread among some 30,000 students who could be part of the Villaraigosa schools. A larger pool of money already is arriving at about 80 of the district’s lowest-performing schools. These funds, as much as $1,000 per student for seven years, are part of a lawsuit settlement between the California Teachers Assn. and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A yet-to-be-named governing board, headed by Deputy Mayor Ramon C. Cortines, the mayor’s top education advisor, will control the Lundquist money as well as oversee the partnership schools. Cortines and another Villaraigosa advisor said the board would likely include a teacher, parent, contributor and school district representative.

“I intend to consult with all,” said Cortines, speaking about who would sit on the governing board and how it would work. “We need to model what we say: a partnership.”

The donation is the Lundquists’ latest for Villaraigosa’s educational initiatives. Their El Segundo company, Continental Development Corp., gave $100,000 earlier this year to the mayor’s successful campaign to elect three new school board members. Villaraigosa supported a slate of winning candidates that gave him a majority of allies on the seven-member Board of Education. In turn, they agreed to let him lead reform at the still-to-be selected schools.

Villaraigosa was joined at Wednesday’s news conference by school board President Monica Garcia, a staunch loyalist, and L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer. The mayor presented the Lundquist gift as the largest private donation ever to the school district.


“I want to fire you up,” Villaraigosa said at the event. “I want you to get excited. . . . I’m committed to raising a lot more money than this.”

The mayor’s reform initiative received a mixed response this week among parents elsewhere in the city.

A 10-member team from his office sought to explain his plan Tuesday to about 50 people at the All People’s Christian Center south of downtown. One person in the audience, a teacher from nearby Santee High School, dismissed past reform efforts and questioned Villaraigosa’s motives.

“For many years, we’ve been lied to,” said social studies teacher Ron Gochez. “There are not even trash cans in this community. . . . This is all political,” he added, referring to speculation that Villaraigosa may run for governor in 2010.

Marshall Tuck, a senior education aide to Villaraigosa, did his best to make the mayor’s case, insisting that the challenge of education reform was, in fact, filled with political pitfalls.

“I disagree with what you say about the mayor,” Tuck said. “We’ll be very clear on what we can do and on what we can’t do.”




Giving back

Who: Melanie and Richard Lundquist, both 58, of Palos Verdes Estates.

Professional background: Owners of Continental Development Corp., an El Segundo-based commercial real estate firm with more than 4 million square feet of space in California. It is soon to open the largest new hotel to be developed in San Francisco in nearly 20 years.

Ties to Los Angeles schools: Both are USC graduates. He attended Dodson Middle School and Narbonne High School. She attended Riverside Drive Elementary, Millikan Junior High and Grant High School.

Philanthropy: With a $13-million gift in 2006, established Lundquist Cardiovascular Institute at Torrance Memorial Medical Center.

Volunteerism: He is chairman and a board member of the El Segundo Educational Foundation. She is on the board of the California Science Center Foundation and has been active with Inner-City Arts, United Friends of the Children and Alliance for Children’s Rights, among others.

Source: City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times