‘Investment in the Future’

‘Investment in the future’

Irvine Co. donates $20 million to underwrite 30 teachers in elementary schools.

Music, art and science instruction are safe in Irvine elementary schools until at least 2016.

On Monday, Donald Bren and the Irvine Co. committed $20 million to the school district, a grant that will enable the district to fund programs for fourth through sixth grades in science, music and art for the next 10 years.

The programs typically are in danger of elimination each year when the district’s budget is reviewed. This gift ensures the programs’ continuity regardless of demands on the budget.

In announcing the donation, Irvine Co. chairman Bren said what he learned in art, music and science growing up in West Los Angeles became a permanent part of his life, both personally and professionally.

“I hope it will make a passion, and a positive difference in the lives of our children,” Bren said. “It’s an investment in the future.”

Bren spoke at a ceremony Monday afternoon at Alderwood Basics Plus Elementary School in Quail Hill.

Irvine Co. Vice President Mike LeBlanc, introduced Bren and said that education is a passion of the company’s leader. Through his foundation and the Irvine Co., Bren has given at least $200 million to education in Orange County, including about $66 million in the past 20 years for primary and secondary education.

It was Bren’s gift of a $700,000 annual matching grant through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation for the past four years that seeded the strong public support of elementary arts, music and science instruction, said Tim Shaw, chief executive officer of the foundation.

Last year, the foundation raised $4.1 million for the district, part of which supported after-school programs, health clerks and health education and class-size reduction.

The Irvine Co. and Bren have been longtime supporters of Irvine schools. Besides the annual $700,000 matching grant for arts, music and science in the past four years, the company gave $1 million in 2000 after the second failed attempt at passing a parcel tax to keep music and arts in the schools.

The new gift will be used to guarantee compensation for about 30 specialist teachers for the next decade, and the donation will relieve some pressure on the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, which often is looked to for support of such programs.

School board member Sharon Wallin, nearly bouncing with excitement, said, “Please, please put in how much we appreciate this gift of the Irvine Co. for its continued investment in education and the realization that this is such an important part of education.”

Superintendent Dean Waldfogel thanked the specialist teachers for staying through years of uncertainty and anxiety about funding for the programs. Such electives have been threatened over the past decade of increasingly tightened state school funding. Irvine’s is the lowest funded unified district and one of the lowest-funded per student by state funding formulas.

Though the district has consistently scored high on state tests – it has 18 of the county’s 25 schools that scored a perfect 10 on the two state test comparison indexes – Waldfogel noted that the creativity and thinking fostered by science and the arts are mostly outside the measurements of state tests. The values of the community, he said, go way beyond test scores.

Bren said he had been dismayed to see enrichment programs put in the background in recent years, and emphasized the need for well-rounded students for the economic health of the community and the state.

Bren received two standing ovations from the crowd filling the multipurpose room during his announcement.

Then, as a surprise for Bren, a fourth-grade string ensemble, a fifth-grade choir and a sixth-grade wind ensemble performed.

The Irvine Co. chief smiled through the performances and nodded while the fifth-graders sang, “I want to be the best that I can be and live my life with strength and dignity.”

Bren clearly was touched by the performances. “It’s a thrill to be here,” he said. “I’ve never been serenaded before.”