By Michael Hernandez
THOUSAND OAKS—The Conejo Valley Unified School District took board action Tuesday to keep facility costs at last year levels—saving sports leagues from disaster or having to abandon using school district facilities due to rising costs of up to 1200 percent.
The emergency action was prompted by requests made by multiple local sports organizations due to a March, 2019 board approval of the 2019-20 facility use fee schedule that resulted in a change of definition of what constituted a season and in charging for each field used.
In the course of applying the approved fee schedule, it was revealed that certain user groups had been receiving special rates. Previously, some sports leagues had paid for use of a school facility based on a yearly contract of 12 months rather than on seasonal contract (based on three months) and for use of multiple fields or courts at a school site rather than for each field or court used.
Other potential issues discovered included: the outside user groups that have keys to school sites; requirement for a district representative on site during events; performing arts center audio-visual technician coverage; groups that perform maintenance on fields; enforcing SB 1557 (groups that charge more than $60 on average per month) and the question of whether the district is making retroactive changes.
The school district general fund received facility use revenue of $673,555 in 2018-19. The board believed in spring that they had approved a five percent increase in costs for facility usage with the new fee structure.
Board member Sandee Everett stated that when the board discussed facility usage fees in March she had “lot of concerns” about possible side deals with organizations that were not paying the same user fees. Board President Betsy Connolly countered Everett by stating she needed to “stick to civic center fees” (facility usage fees) and not about Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the district and various community organizations.
Everett gave the example of how a Chinese school wanted to use facilities and contrasted that with the free usage of facilities for summer programs by the Conejo School Foundation (which charged summer fees of $300 and $600). Everett then said she wanted to know who were the sports organizations and Supt. Mark McLaughlin said it would “not be fair” to identify the sports organizations in addressing the fee questions.
The Board approved by a 4-0 vote (board member Cindy Goldberg was not present for the vote and entered the board room for the first time after the vote with an explanation that she had been observing the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah) reverting back to the 2018-2019 user fee schedule until the issue could be resolved.
District staff was directed to create a committee that included sports organization representatives, site administrators, and school board members to work out a solution to the new pricing formulas that had been developed at the March board meeting.
District staff recommends moving next bond issue from 2021 to 2020
An introduction to the recommended acceleration of Measure I, the General Obligation Bonds ($197 million was approved by city voters in the Election of 2014 with $146 million going toward facilities and $51 million for technology) was made by Deputy Superintendent, Business Services Dr. Victor Hayek due to what he called the “given economic climate” and “low interest rates.”
Timothy Carty of Piper Jaffray, an El Segundo public finance investment banking firm, made a presentation to board members of a possible savings of $4.6 million in reduced interest costs savings by moving the next issuance of Measure I General Obligation Bonds to spring 2020 instead of fall 2021 (due to declining interest rates that have gone down by 1.17 percent).
The original plan called for four bonds to be issued: In 2015, a $37 million bond was issued and June 2018 a $50 million bond issued. The next bond is to be for $42.8 million. Each bond used for facilities has a payback of 15 years at $32 per $100,000 stated Carty. The payback for technology was over 20 years.
Dr. Hayek stated that bond money is being used for such projects: as Westlake High School’s STEM building (which is projected to cost between $11-12 million), and a new building at Redwood Middle School and for the EARTh STEM elementary magnet. Dr. Hayek stated that the district had saved costs by doing its own project management rather than outsourcing these costs (which could have cost the district up to $9 million dollars for various projects).
During public hearing comments, Silas Nesheiwat, a former member of the bond oversight committee, called for proper oversight of the bond issue to ensure “credibility and trust” claiming the district had lacked “good governance” through its bond committee which he said had not received timely minutes and the appropriate audits.
EARTh Magnet School Kindergarten School Choice requirements adopted
The recommendations for kindergarten enrollments made by district staff with the EARTh Magnet School Choice committee were adopted by the School Board. The STEM magnet is a no boundary school of choice serving 543 students as opposed to a neighborhood school with students from the Newbury Park cluster comprising 82.5 percent (448 students); the Thousand Oaks cluster some 12.0 percent (70 students); the Westlake cluster some 2.9 percent (16 students); and those from outside the district at 1.7 percent (9 students).
Enrollments for next year’s kindergarten (88 open seats) will be taken from November-January using a three-tier lottery system with 10 percent (9 seats set aside for families with current enrollees in the preschool; 35 percent (35 seats set aside) for those with siblings at the school; two seats for employees; and the remaining seats (through a tier 2 and tier 3) lottery process.
In other board action:
- The school board approved a contract for $758,463 to EIDIM AV Technology for the Public Television Access Equipment project at various school sites (this reflects a grant from the general fund of $48,000).
- The board also adopted resolution #19/20-04 declaring Oct. 13-19 the “Week of the School Administrator” following the Senate of the State of California which adopted a State resolution and encouraged districts to commend their management team and publicize the role of administrators (both certificated and classified).
(Editor’s Note: To view the entire resolution adopted by a 4-0 vote, see: https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/conejo/Board.nsf/files/BGJKU95386EE/$file/19-20%20Resolution%20Week%20of%20School%20Admin.pdf.)
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].