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Effort launched to raise $200 million for L.A. public schools

The superintendent and a Hollywood philanthropist are collaborating on the fund. Donations could support districtwide initiatives, such as a new training program for principals, among other things.

September 15, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • John Deasy, who became L.A. Unified's superintendent in mid-April, has made pursuing outside support a high priority.
John Deasy, who became L.A. Unified's superintendent in mid-April,… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy and Hollywood philanthropist Megan Chernin have launched an effort to raise $200 million over five years to benefit local public schools.

The collaboration, in the works for several months, was announced in a letter signed by Deasy, Chernin and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The letter strikingly lists failures of the Los Angeles Unified School District but also asserts that "for the first time in the District's history, the conditions for bold change are present.... The time is now to harness this potential and it is our responsibility to do so."

Besides Chernin, the nascent board of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education includes education philanthropist Casey Wasserman — who has given directly to L.A. Unified in the past — as well as former educator and artist Nancy Marks and Jamie Alter Lynton, a former journalist who is married to the chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Donations could support districtwide initiatives, such as a new training program for principals, among other things. They could also bring to the district effective approaches used at charter schools, said spokeswoman Amanda Crumley.

One selling point for participants is that the elected L A. Board of Education would have no direct control over the money.

"As you know, the innovation Los Angeles' students need cannot start within a rule-bound bureaucracy," the letter states.

Key education donors have refused to give much, if anything, to L.A. Unified because they question how well the nation's second-largest school system would use the money.

L.A. Unified, like other districts, has been hard hit by state funding shortfalls, resulting in thousands of layoffs, larger class sizes and a shorter school year.

Deasy, who became superintendent in mid-April, has made pursuing outside support a high priority.

Before joining L.A. Unified a year ago, Deasy was a top official at the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest philanthropic organization and one that has focused on education.

Deasy also attended the superintendents academy of local philanthropist Eli Broad, whose foundation, like the Gateses', has given little to L.A. Unified. The Broad and Gates foundations have generally awarded grants to Los Angeles-area charter schools instead of the L.A. schools system. Charters are public schools that are independently run.

The presence of longtime education philanthropist Chernin, who is married to producer Peter Chernin, offers a potential pipeline to Hollywood, whose leading figures typically have little involvement in public schools. Recently, Chernin served as co-founder and board chairwoman of L.A.'s Promise, which manages two district high schools and just took over one middle school. In her new capacity, she intends to remain on the board of L.A.'s Promise but step down as chairwoman, a spokesperson said.

Chernin and other members of the L.A.'s Promise board became actively involved this year in a school board race, hosting a fundraiser for candidate Luis Sanchez. He narrowly lost to Bennett Kayser, who was backed by the L.A. teachers union.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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