Menifee School Board Forum - Recap

Five of the six candidates for Menifee Union School District board showed up this evening for the scheduled public forum hosted by the local...

Five of the six candidates for Menifee Union School District board showed up this evening for the scheduled public forum hosted by the local PTA. Victor Giardinelli couldn't appear due to laryngitis.

The forum was held in a format similar to the "town hall" format, where candidates took turn answering questions from the public. Betti Cadmus, the district's public information officer, moderated the event.

The meeting was sparsely attended. I counted about 30 people in the audience, and of that number about 10-12 were actually parents. Most of those parents were part of the PTA hosting the event. I think I counted only two parents who were not PTA. The other 20 or so people in the audience were employees of the school district.

I wasn't able to find out if all 20 of the employees lived in Menifee or not; it could very well be that some of them don't live in the district and may not even be eligible to vote.

The forum fielded only a total of five questions. I don't know how many of those questions were asked on the standpoint of being a parent, versus the standpoint of being an employee. But considering that much of the audience were district employees, it could very well be that some questions, if not all, were asked on the standpoint of being an employee.

Combine that with the possibility that some of those employees may not be elgible to vote in this district, I'm not really certain this forum allowed candidates to differentiate themselves from each other in the minds of parents.

It also didn't help that this forum coincided with the last Presidential Debate.

Questions and Statements

Below are the questions answers from the forum. Please take care to note that these are not the candidates actual answers, they're just my summaries and paraphrases. The only recording equipment I was able to bring with me was my pen and notepad, and therefore had to abbreviate everything to keep up...

Candidate Opening Statements

Jerry Bowman - Cited his 30 years experience in education, Masters Degree in Arts. Works as a consultant with other school districts helping them facilitate their professional learning communities. Is a US Army Vet. Says he wants to address the "whole student", meaning addressing not just their education, but helping develop their life experiences, future needs. Wants to put students first.

Randall Freeman - Cited his achievements as a leader in the local Masonic Lodge in relation to assisting the local schools. Cited his experience raising four daughters, three of them being triplets. Has taught at Val Verde School District for 20 years, and taught kindergarten for 10 years. Is the only teacher with a National Board Teacher Certification. Is working towards a doctorate towards childhood education.

Pheoba Irey - Cited her experience as a reading teacher in several states. Says she believes we have an excellent school district. Stated during her tenure as school board member, the district saw three of its schools become California Distinguished Schools. Helped the unification effort, campaigned for single track, and continue her goals for excellence in education the next four years.

Ron Ulibarri - Cited his eight years experience as a teacher, and his owning a local real estate business. Says he knows the teachers here and that helps him develop a good sense of what MUSD is. Says he has a willingness to make the district the best district in south west Riverside County. He mentioned that as a real estate broker, his clients always tell him that they're buying a home in Murrieta or Temecula because the schools are so much better there. That made him want to improve Menifee schools. Wants to pay more attention to student needs, focus on the basics, and not be too "test oriented".

Manolito Vitug - Cited his long experience working in the banking industry. Now teaches finance management at Mt San Jacinto College. Also volunteers as a reading tutor through the MUSD "Great" program. He wants to establish a revenue generating center within the school district to bring about financial stability. He wants to put more emphasis on developing the "human qualities" in children, such as Honesty and Duty, through the arts and sciences.

Questions

1. How will you better facilitate communication between board members and parents?

Bowman - Cited more timely updates on the district's website, namely publishing minutes and agenda online. Said board members need to attend more civic meetings. Assured the audience that he's very reachable via phone or e-mail.

Freeman - Says board members should always be reachable via e-mail, and that the district should have a series of recorded messages on the phone system. Members should be out in the community more often, and cited Victor Giardinelli as a good example. Says he thinks the district already does a pretty good of communicating to the public. Can make better use of the district's website.

Irey - Said during her tenure they've made the district website much more informative, and will continue to work hard at improving communication.

Ulibarri - Said the current practice of sending kids home with important communication to parents doesn't seem a sound idea. Board members need to get out into the public more often, and be more "hands on". Mentioned to need to be recognized by students; many students don't even know who the board members are.

Vitug - Cited his experience working in banks, where he would talk to the employees on the front lines, and called for something similar within the school district.

2. Which area of the district's services is untouchable in terms of balancing the school's budget?

Freeman - "The closer to the classroom, the more untouchable". Cited that 85% of a school's budget is related to personnel. Look at what services affect the students the least. Is hesitant to cut class size reduction, though noted that large classrooms are a reality. His current kindergarten class has 30 kids.

Irey - Cited last Spring's budget cuts as being a tough thing to deal with. Said that she fought to save the music program because music is what makes our district very unique. Will not cut music at all. Will not cut class size reduction. Will not cut services that impact test scores the most.

Ulibarri - Agreed with Irey on the music program. Says dealing with budget constraints is very tough. Mentioned that busing will likely be the first to go. Ulibarri largely answered this the opposite way, by citing what he'd cut first, instead of what he would not touch.

Vitug - Admitted to having little experience with school budgets. But said would draw upon the administration and the people on the front lines (teachers, parents), to assist in determining what services to keep and cut. Vitug went on to describe his process of learning, to arrive at solutions.

Bowman - Said he would look at what affects the students the least. The last thing to cut is teacher's salaries. Busing might be the first think to look at. Bowman gave very direct answers, cutting right to the chase.

3. If the California Department of Education does not approve the recently submitted Unification proposal, would you go back to the drawing board and craft a proposal that would include the unification of the Romoland Union School District, the Menifee Union School District, and part of Perris Union High School District to include Paloma Valley High School, Heritage High School, and a future third high school the City of Menifee? Why, or why not?

Irey - "No." Said she would not do this again. Cited her exhaustive efforts to get the current unification proposal to the state. Though she would help lobby for a second attempt, and support one, but would not personally involve herself in a second one. Said, "I'm too old for it".

Ulibarri - Said "yes", claiming we have to be the best we can be; always shoot for the top. Cited the current district administration as being highly skilled and reliable enough that there's no reason we can't submit a second proposal.

Vitug - Said we should look at this on a fiscal and academic standpoint, and determine if a second proposal makes sense. If so, he'll help make it happen.

Bowman - Yes he'll do a second proposal. Said the future population will be about quadruple what it is today. It's not a matter of if unification will happen, but when.

Freeman - Yes, he'd do a second proposal. Said that Fred Twyman asked him to run for school board because Freeman's support for unification is very outspoken.

(Note, none of the candidates really answered the question of unifying the Romoland, Menifee, and Perris High School districts, but only support unification in general).

4. What plans do you have to improve special education, and what specific programs will you implement?

Ulibarri - Said he didn't have experience in special education, so may not be qualified to answer.

Vitug - Said he didn't know, but feels special education is very vital to the community.

Bowman - Said it's hard to discuss specific programs, but described his process of defining the needs of special education students in our community. Also said special education should be part of the district's general program.

Freeman - "Special needs children are still children." "They are still entitled to an education as any other child". Said we must address their education needs.

Irey - "Special needs children have special needs." Described the "full inclusion program", where special needs children are integrated with the rest of the students to make them feel a part of the community.

5. Will you address the need of classified employees. What makes you the best candidate to represent the needs of classified employees?

Vitug - They are part of the overall program. "Sometimes it's the screw or bolt that keeps the wheel from turning".

Bowman - Says the entire education system needs its classified employees.

Freeman - Said classified employees are what makes the school district run. Cited an old saying, "When you go to a new school, make friends with the custodian not the principal".

Irey - Said she's most qualified because she's married to a classified employee. Said she used to sweep floors with him just so that she could be with him. Said she feels like a classified employee because of that.

Ulibarri - Said he used to be a classified employee at the Murrieta district as a campus supervisor. Said the district would fall apart without its classified employees.

Closing Statements

Jerry Bowman - All decisions made by the school board should be made on the "whole student". Wants to work towards future expansion, ensure financial well-being, and unification. Said transportation should be an immediate issue. Wants all students to get an equal and quality education. Will listen to the community.

Randall Freeman - Wants to implement a full time kindergarten in Menifee Union, and went on to cite its need and benefits. Also expressed his admiration for Victor Giardinelli, and recommended voters to make him their first choice.

Phoeba Irey - Said will keep an eye on the public's money, she will look out for you, and fight for what's right.

Ron Ulibarri - Said he's here to serve. "I love Menifee" "I've always served". Want to make Menifee Union the top district in south west Riverside County. Cited the need for unification. Said that many parents tend to reside in Murrieta because the high schools there are so strong in sports, therefore if we get Paloma Valley High, and can improve its sports program, families will want to move here instead.

Vitug - Cited the current economic situation with the mortgage crisis and the $700 billion bailout. Instead of waiting to see what happens, he wants to make Menifee Union economically self-sufficient instead of being subject to the state budget shortfalls. Said he wants to put more focus on "human virtues", turning children into better adults by giving them a sense of honesty and trustworthiness. He said while most of his family are Americans by birth, he's an American by choice. He wants to serve his community as a way of giving back.

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