Conejo School District charged with misuse of bond money

THOUSAND OAKS—A former member of the Conejo Valley Citizens Oversight Committee of Measure I—the voter approved (Nov., 2014) $197 million school bond measure—alleged during public comments made at the end of Tuesday’s school board meeting that the school district had misused bond money to supplement the district general fund.

Silas Nesheiwat addressing the CVUSD board during public comments on Amendments to Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee’s By-laws

Silas Nesheiwat, unanimously appointed by the Board of Trustees to the school bond oversite committee in October, 2018, asked the district to “provide better board oversight, broader knowledge, transparency and education that will foster longing trust and credibility from the taxpayers” and stated that he had provided six pages of bylaw suggestions for the oversight bond committee that were “best practices” taken from bond oversight committees throughout the state in lieu of the amendments to the bond oversight committee presented to school board trustees as an information/discussion item from the Office of Business Services.

Nesheiwat stated that board trustees and bond committee members need more training to fulfill their oversight roles and said that since providing his recommendations for the bylaws to the Citizens Oversight Committee in April, 2019 that he has become “more stressed each meeting, felt marginalized, insulted, disrespected and viewed as a distraction.”

Nesheiwat is also seeking a joint meeting with Board of Education members at least once a year; for an annual report to be included in the bylaws; for bond oversight members to participate in the selection of an independent and “unbiased” Auditor; to allow committee members to visit school sites and speak with staff; and invited each Board member to a one-on-one meeting during the next two weeks to review his bylaw proposal.

“I’ll tell you how it looks to me…this school district administration and the Board of Education don’t want oversight.  They want compliance with this mismanagement,” said Nesheiwat.  “This bond has continued to supplement the General Fund with wasteful spending of bond funds.

“This bond has provided several great projects, I will say many of the elementary schools have received very nice aesthetic upgrades, the Thousand Oaks library was a good project, some infrastructure required attention, I agree.

“But are our schools really safer because of Measure I? Are the classrooms really as modern as they can be?  Are we maximizing our technology to give our students and teachers the technical advantages we all expected? Or do they just have more gadgets that are under-utilized?  Do the teachers and students have all the best and right resources in order to thrive? I say we can do better.”

“We’ve not received complaints or concerns from the Measure I committee,” said  Board Trustee Betsy Connolly who stated that Nesheiwat did not speak for the bond oversight committee.   “I have heard complaints about this before,” said Board Trustee Sandee Everett. “I would like to make sure that our (bond oversight committee) bylaws reflect best practices.  This is critical to ensure public confidence.” Connolly countered by saying: “These are bylaws of an independent committee established by state law and are not board bylaws” which she claimed specified who is on the Citizens Oversight Committee and their responsibilities.

California State law requires that every voter approved bond have an Independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee which shall have duties and rights set forth in their Bylaws as outlined by Proposition 39 and adopted in the Education Code.  However, the Committee does not have legal capacity independent from the District.

Board to develop student trustee training, board communication protocols

CVUSD Board Trustee Sandee Everett (middle) thanking Craig Mesenbrink, left (Schneider Electric Senior Project Manager) for their donation of a Sustainable Outdoor Learning Environment (SOLE) at Thousand Oaks High School with Rich Freed, right (CVUSD Energy Manager).

The Conejo Valley Unified School District board will develop student trustee training materials and board communication protocols between elected board members and the student trustee as well as social media protocols in the aftermath of a question that trustee Sandee Everett asked Student Trustee Jordan Scott at the Dec. 17th board meeting during book adoption discussion.

Board Trustees Betsy Connolly, Jenny Fitzgerald and Cindy Goldberg challenged Everett as asking a personal and inappropriate question when asking Student Trustee Scott if she knew of “any students who had been raped, abused, molested” and if this could cause students to be traumatized by the literature book the board was adopting.

This question generated nine public comments (including comments from both Student Trustee Scott’s parents).  Public comments were split in their opinion of the appropriateness of the question but all were supportive of the “maturity” and “tactfulness” of Student Trustee Jordan Scott.

Scott asked board members to develop the social media protocols and commented that she would never “vent or talk badly” about a fellow board member because we are all “part of the same  team.”

Board authorized to consult legal counsel for liability in possible lawsuit

Board President Cindy Goldberg was given authorization (4-1; Trustee Sandee Everett dissenting) to seek legal counsel for liability in a possible lawsuit from Supt. Mark McLaughlin against Board Trustee Sandee Everett who voiced that this should have been discussed in closed session as a personnel matter and not taken up as a board action until an actual lawsuit had been filed.  Everett said approving legal counsel at this time was a “waste of taxpayer money” since no formal written complaint had been made.

Trustees ask to see comprehensive school safety plans

School board trustees asked district staff to show them samples of some of the comprehensive school safety plans which are not published by design (to ensure school safety) so that they might review emergency procedures at school sites as well as by first responders and whether the plans accounted for the needs of students with disabilities and those who “don’t understand English.”

Dr. Victor Hayek, Deputy Superintendent, Business Services said that this year custodians and cafeteria workers had participated in emergency and disaster training.   

Schneider Electric gives major donation to Thousand Oaks High School

The CVUSD board accepted a $250,000 donation from Schneider Electric—an international company—that is developing a “first-of-its-kind” Sustainable Outdoor Learning Environment (SOLE) at Thousand Oaks High School which will enhance the school’s Science and STEM program.

The 30 foot by 30 foot structure is a freestanding sloped shade cover, with porous rubber flooring solar panels, inverter, lithium-ion battery, LED lighting and surface grading for proper draining.  The projected needed and received approval from the Division of the State Architect.

The outdoor space which will be built before the end of the year is entirely operated on renewable power and not tied to any utility power grid and will be built along the grassy area besides the service road, between buildings D & E.

“We are very excited that there are no other learning environment of this kind that exist today in California Schools.   This gives Conejo Valley USD the first SOLE implementation and serves as another great example of next generation learning,” said Schneider Electric Program Manager Marc Starkey. 

Three CVUSD schools designated as California Distinguished Schools

Supt. Mark McLaughlin announced that three Conejo Valley schools were designated by the California Department of Education as California Distinguished Schools:

  • Acacia Magnet School for Enriched Learning
  • EARTHS Magnet
  • Sycamore Canyon

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]


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