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Hello, Mr. Chips

Villaraigosa proves he can bring a bundle to the table when it comes to raising funds for education.

September 28, 2007

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has steadily maintained that ceding him control over the city's flailing schools would turn on a spigot of private money from those who believe that the schools can be saved and that he's the man to save them. Fifty million dollars later, it turns out he was right.

Real estate developer Richard Lundquist and his wife, Melanie, say their gift of $50 million over the next 10 years to Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is a direct result of the mayor's personal efforts on school reform. The partnership, a nonprofit collaboration among the city, the school district, parents and others, will oversee two high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed them, serving as laboratories for innovations that ultimately will benefit the entire district. So while the gift may seem to target a few thousand students, if it's used properly, all students will benefit.

The Lundquists' gift, the largest private donation to Los Angeles' schools, will fund a variety of the partnership's efforts, including additional training for teachers and administrators -- crucial to improving instruction -- bonuses for teachers laboring in the worst schools, and pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. The money comes with strings attached: Schools that receive funds must improve test scores and graduation and dropout rates.

On a political note, the donation is all the more gratifying for being disinterested. The couple, who made their fortune in commercial real estate, have no business deals before the city or school district and live outside its bounds, in Palos Verdes. The gift is a testament to their love of children and their faith in Villaraigosa. Indeed, Melanie Lundquist plans to become involved in fundraising for the partnership.

So kudos to the mayor. And to the Lundquists, the city's gratitude for their "adoption" -- as they called it Wednesday -- of 708,000 children.

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