School District Again Denies Petition for Menifee Valley Prep

A mother and her daughter address the Menifee Union School District Board Tuesday amid a large crowd in the Quail Valley Elementary School auditorium.
(Photos by Kristen Spoon)
Going against the wishes of virtually everyone in a packed auditorium, the Menifee Union School District Board Tuesday voted to deny a petition to open a second charter school in Menifee.

This is the second time the MUSD board has denied a petition by Heritage Classical Charter Schools to open the proposed Menifee Valley Preparatory School, based on an educational plan similar to the highly regarded Temecula Preparatory charter school. The unanimous vote to deny the petition was met with expressions of shock and frustration by HCCS administrators and dozens of parents who had hoped to enroll their children at Menifee Valley Prep.

"Dr. Kennedy, you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to take this opportunity away from our children," said parent Chrissy Sandoval (right), addressing MUSD Superintendent Dr. Steve Kennedy before the vote was taken. "You're holding us to standards you don't even hold your own students to."

Kennedy did not have a vote regarding this action, but his staff's recommendation that the school board deny the petition ultimately was supported by all five board members. The concerns raised by board members echoed many of their sentiments expressed during a previous denial, which sent HCCS to the County Office of Education before being sent back to MUSD for an appeal.

Board President Ron Ulibarri said that in his mind, bringing Menifee Valley Prep to the city did not meet the definition of a charter school and its mission.

"My understanding of a charter school is to support an area that is struggling in education," said Ulibarri (at right, to the right of Kennedy). "Menifee is not struggling. Temecula schools are No. 1 in Riverside County and Menifee schools are No. 2. When you look at our public schools, we're doing a very good job.

"I toured Temecula Prep and it's an excellent school. I'm not sure why they would want to come into Menifee. I think there are other communities outside Menifee that could probably use the help more than we could."

Board member Robert O'Donnell expressed concern that Menifee families might be limited in gaining acceptance to the school because of a lottery system that would be open to families of surrounding cities. Another concern raised was the degree to which the Menifee Valley Prep curriculum would align with the new Common Core standards.

Several HCCS administrators spoke in support of the petition, including Karen Henson, chief operating officer of Temecula Prep.

"This petition was made based on a huge demand from parents in your district," she said. "Your attorney can drag us into a line-by-line discussion of the petition, which we would've been happy to do, had we been asked."

Ulibarri also expressed concern over possible financial responsibilities he believes the district could incur.

"This school would cost us money to oversee it -- money we really don't have," he said. "We've never even heard where this school would be. That's still up in the air. If we end up having to provide a place for them, there are costs to us. There are just too many questions in my mind."

Many parents spoke passionately about their desire to have the charter school as an educational option for their children. Santa Rosa Academy, the existing charter school in the city, has a long waiting list for admission. According to Denee Burns, director of development for Temecula Prep, the proposed Menifee charter school has received more than 700 applications for a planned fall 2014 opening -- 70 percent from Menifee residents.

The petition also received the support of Menifee Mayor Scott Mann and Riverside County Supervisors Marion Ashley and Jeff Stone, among other elected officials.

"Every one of the letters of recommendation I saw were from politicians who are up for re-election," said board member Randall Freeman. "Politicians can say anything they want, but they're not involved in this."

HCCS officials have the option of appealing to the Riverside County Office of Education again.

Tuesday's meeting was moved to Quail Valley Elementary School to allow for the large audience.






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