Parents, Staff Fight to Keep Local Lutheran School Open

4:15 p.m.: Story includes corrected information stating that the preschool remain open.

The school principal and parents of students are seeking ways to save Good Shepherd Lutheran School in Menifee following a vote by the church's congregation to close the school.

Church members last Sunday voted 54-22 to close the elementary school in June, said principal Charles Mayer. GSLS, which includes a preschool that will remain open, has been in operation for 12 years at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church site, 26800 Newport Road.

According to Mayer, Pastor Scott Ganas called for a vote of church members regarding the future of the school because of financial concerns following a decrease in enrollment. Preschool enrollment has decreased 52 percent in the last 18 months to a total of 46 students. Elementary school enrollment has increased gradually in recent years to its current total of 107. Even so, projections for this school year show a deficit of $138,000 at the elementary school level and $81,000 for the preschool.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church is responsible for the loan granted by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund -- an organization run by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Based on a study of income, expenses and enrollment, LCEF officials have notified the school and church that it cannot provide additional funds "under the current model."

However, LCEF has indicated it will consider alternate plans that would increase enrollment and income. In fact, Mayer said, LCEF administrators have agreed to meet with Mayer, Rev. Ganas and a group of parents to consider their options.

Rev. Ganas could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Mayer has drawn up a plan he believes will increase enrollment and take the school's finances out of the red. He projects an increase in K-8 enrollment to 137 students in 2014-15, resulting in net income of $127,163.

In a plan presented to church members and parents, Mayer outlined a strategy that includes new earnings from a summer program and an international program, based on a previously successful visit by students from China that provided additional income (left).

According to the proposal, Mayer has also cut expenses through adjustments in the janitorial services and by combining two kindergarten classes into one.

"Our California credentialed teachers -- many of whom have Masters Degrees -- academically prepare their students with rigorous challenges to meet the expectations of the next level," Mayer said. "Our students are cultivated to display Christ-like behaviors and are taught the Christian response to a secular world.

"Finally, there is a real sense of belonging. Many of the students have been together most of their lives and treat one another like brothers and sisters. I believe these factors will continue to contribute to future recruiting and population growth in our school."

Mayer said the average annual tuition at a Lutheran school is $5,800 a year. Tuition for Good Shepherd Lutheran School this year is $4,700.

Parents of students who would be affected have expressed concern about the possible closing of the school, which is the only private Christian school in the area.

"Our children love their school," wrote Lisa La Russo in an email to Menifee 24/7. My daughter has been there nine years. The teachers and staff are incredible with the kids. There are not any other schools locally that are private and a reasonably priced.

"The kids can't lose their school. We need the public to help us and maybe the church will listen to the proposal."

Students in the K-8 program receive more personal instruction than in public schools, with an average of 16-18 students per class.

"Our daughter (11) and son (9) have attended Good Shepherd Lutheran School since preschool," wrote Tiernan and Janice Levasseur in an email. "The foundation of learning, both spiritually and academically, they have received there has been invaluable in preparing them for life. We are fortunate and very blessed to have Good Shepherd Lutheran School in our lives."

Enrollment of new students is still being accepted, with the hope that any increase will help the group's efforts to keep the school open next year. For information about the school and its programs, call 951-672-6675.

The opinions of those close to the school were summed up by 12-year-old Ashley La Russo, who has attended the school since she was 3. She posted the following on her mother's Facebook page:

"Either way, I support my school and I really am upset about this. I won't give up, no matter how many people say I should."


  1. This school is so important to so many families. This decision was made by the church with no input from or warning to the parents, who of course could have worked with all parties involved to find and fund a better solution. We are praying very hard for all our leaders to place their pride and personal feelings to the side and work for the kids.

  2. My sons have been enrolled at Good Shepherd for years. Both of them receive wonderful and caring instruction from their teachers. Both have grown and learned so much. Our family was deeply saddened by the decision to close the school, especially when there is a workable plan that can make it profitable. As Jennifer said, parents were given no input or warning of the closing until after the decision had been made. Had we known of the financial state of the school, we could have worked to find a solution that would keep the school open. After attending a meeting of parents, I saw a room full of people who have no desire to see Good Shepherd close its doors, and the will and energy to help the school succeed. I pray that all parties affected can come together in the best interest of the students of Good Shepherd Lutheran.

    1. Good Shepherd School is a caring place for children to grow in their love for God and each other. I know because I have accompanied my grandson to Grandparents' Day, I know some of the teachers and have spoken on several occasions to the principal. The teachers and staff there have loved and accepted my grandsons and continue to guide them to be the godly men they will become. I teach in another Lutheran school, and I know that the teachers in our schools want the best educationally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually for the children in their classrooms. We care and are like a family. I pray that my grandsons will have the benefit of an excellent, well-balanced education at Good Shepherd Lutheran School for many years to come.

  3. Jennifer you are absolutely correct. It just so happens that my daughter started to attend this facility in preschool They have been a pivotal point in her development. She continues to attend Kinder here as well. I am saddened by the congregations decision. My determination factors for having my daughter attend this school to begin with was because of their curriculum and the cost. This is significantly lower in comparison to other schools in the area (private and christian schools). I have done a lot of research on this.

  4. My son and I are saddened by this news - he has attended since Kinder and will be in 6th grade next year. As a parent I am frustrated by how this decision was made and that a great plan was drafted and shot down by the congregation. We are still hoping that a plan will be approved to keep the school open. GSLS is a wonderful school with amazing teachers and staff.