By Michael Hernandez
THOUSAND OAKS—The Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) board adopted citizens’ bond oversight committee bylaws Tuesday that were challenged by Silas Nesheiwat, a former
member of that committee, that stated the district was paraphrasing the law and “misleading the public” in regards to how a bond oversight committee should operate.
“There are things in the bylaws that are not in the law,” said Nesheiwat. “Like the committee should not be part of the audit. If a legal opinion is stated in the bylaws, it should be identified as such. We have decided as a community that this is the law.
“The current bylaws say we cannot meet more than four times a year. How can we oversee 50 million dollars of projects in four meetings? Bond oversight committee members do not know that there should be two separate bond audits—a financial audit and a performance audit.”
Nesheiwat says he is seeking the following in the bylaws:
- Changes in the selection process of independent bond oversight committee members;
- Wants an independent bond audit (done by a different auditor than the District uses for a General Fund audit);
- Bond oversight committee training.
Nesheiwat first brought seven pages of Measure I Bylaw suggestions at the April Bond Oversight Committee meeting and then sought discussion at the August Bond Oversight Committee Meeting around three issues: the annual report, training, and the authority of members. Nesheiwat, (former real estate appraiser and vice president of a financial institution), a Thousand Oaks resident for over 30 years, has two children attending Thousand Oaks High School.
At the CVUSD board meeting, trustee Sandee Everett shared recommendations in a February, 2017 Report (#236) from the Little Hoover Commission Report—an independent state oversight agency of bond measures—that include:
- Require mandatory independent training for bond oversight committee members taking a mandatory online training course;
- Civic groups nominate local committee members, allowing veto power for the school district;
- Clearly delineate the role and responsibility of the local oversight committee and define the purpose and objectives of the annual financial and performance audits (required by The Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000, AB 1908);
- Encourage county grand juries to review the annual financial and performance audits of expenditures from local school bond measures;
- Impose sanctions for school districts that fail to adhere to constitutional and statutory requirements of Proposition 39, such as preventing the district from adopting future bond measures under the reduced voter threshold.
The Little Hoover Commission Report stated that common Oversight Bond Committee shortcomings include:
- Infrequent meetings;
- Oversight Bond Committee members appointed by the District;
- Lack of budgeted resources for training;
- Lack of District timely data or response to inquiries within a specific timeframe;
- Oversight only comes after the fact.
The California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CaLBOC)—an all volunteer, non-partisan association of bond oversight committee members, current and past, and other experts, states their mission “is to help Bond Oversight Committee members perform the civic duties they have taken on in the best manner possible.” They have developed an 18-page Operational Guidelines for bond oversight.
During public comments before adoption of the new bond oversight committee bylaws, Caleb Standafer, CPA asked why was there a difference between the bond oversight committee bylaws and the bylaws before the school board? “Where are the minutes from the last bond oversight committee meeting?”
Nesheiwat focused his comments during the public hearing on the bond bylaws on critical words he said were in the Education Code but missing in the bylaws before the board. Such as:
- Education Code:…”The citizens Oversight Committee shall actively report on the proper expenditure of taxpayers’ money…”
- CVUSD Bylaws: “The committee shall review expenditures reports produced by the District.”
- Education Code: “…Receiving and reviewing copies of any deferred maintenance proposals or plans developed by a school district.”
- CVUSD Bylaws: “Review copies of deferred maintenance plans developed by the district.”
“I am a proponent of bylaw language that mirrors statutory language,” said Board Trustee Jenny Fitzgerald. “When you have a difference in wording from statutory language you can have unintended consequences.”
Bond Oversight Committee Chair Tony Gitt said he was in favor of the new bylaws; he pushed for changes: on the residence requirement for committee members (who need to reside in Thousand Oaks), new member orientation conducted by the district, the terms of committee members to match the fiscal calendar, requirements for filling a vacancy, and changing frequency of meetings from quarterly to more often.
“The District has restricted and marginalized the bond oversight committee to know less than more,” said Nesheiwat. “My son’s kids will benefit from what we do today or not benefit because of what we are suppose to do. We are making plans for 30 years—not for us today—but for the future of the community.”
CVUSD board tables approval of Measure I audit report until review by bond oversight committee
The CVUSD board tabled approval of the Measure I audit report for 2019 until reviewed by the bond oversight committee which has a scheduled meting on Feb. 4.
A pre-holiday meeting was cancelled. Measure I is the voter approved (Nov. 2014) $197 million school bond measure.
Board Trustees Jenny Fitzgerald, Bill Gorback, and Cindy Gorback each expressed that the school board should “wait for that review to happen”…so that “concerns from the committee could be expressed”…and in order to “respect their independence before accepting a bond audit.”
A February, 2017 Little Hoover Commission Report states the impact of bond measures in California:
- California votes have approved more than $70 billion in statewide bond financing;
- Some $138 billion in local school facilities bonds have been enacted since voters reduced the threshold for approving bond measures in 2000 from two-thirds to 55 percent via Proposition 39;
- Some $10 billion statewide school construction bonds were enacted by voters in 2016;
- Some $28 billion in local school facility bonding capacity was approved by voters in 2016;
Richard Michael, California School Bonds Clearinghouse, “claims that taxpayers will typically pay three to ten times the face value of the bonds in taxes” and that “there are only one or two school district oversight committees in the state are being really effective.”
“It is important to provide the community oversight for our bonds—how money is being spent and that it is being spent as efficiently as possible and as voters intended,” said Board Trustee Sandee Everett. “The community will be paying on this money for many years.”
Nesheiwat states that he believes the District has used bond money for maintenance which is prohibited by state law. Bond money is for “capital improvements not for school maintenance. We refinished our floors twice already. If done with Measure I funds, this is a maintenance not capital improvement. If an air conditioner breaks, this is maintenance and not capital improvement. I believe we have used the bond to subsidize the poor financial management of the district in regards to facilities.
“When a bond passes, you are suppose to know what you are using the money for, it is not a living document.” Nesheiwat said in Conejo Valley, the community was polled “to see what each school wanted and needed in regards to facilities. This was done at a cost of $350,000 with Measure I bond money. In the Thousand Oaks Cluster we had nine meetings. This is not a blank check. We are required to do this in advance. The law says to be specific.”
CVUSD in its Measure I building fund report ending June 30, 2019 reports on the following capital projects (remaining construction commitment and expected date of completion):
- Aspen Elementary Playground Renovations: $ 152,162 (2019)
- Banyan Elementary Electronic Marque: $ 6,123 (2019)
- Century Academy Classroom Modernization: $ 929,711 (2020)
- Colina Middle Modernization: $ 4,896,153 (2022)
- Conejo Elementary Safety and Security Office
Modification: $ 1,437,502 (2021)
- Conejo Valley High Landscape Modernization: $ 412,641 (2020)
- Cypress Elementary HVAC Control Replacements:$ 7,920 (2019)
- EARTHS Magnet Modernization: $ 1,994,904 (2021)
- Horizon Hills Safety and Security Office
Modification: $ 2,097,637 (2023)
- Lang Ranch Elementary Safe and Security Office
Modification: $ 140,865 (2020)
- Los Cerritos Middle Modernization: $ 1,468,504 (2021)
- Maple Elementary Safety and Security Office
Modification: $ 226,008 (2020)
- Newbury Park High Modernization: $ 1,709,285 (2020)
- Redwood Middle Modernization: $ 4,735,528 (2023)
- Sequoia Middle Modernization: $ 1,484,378 (2019)
- Sycamore Canyon School Safety and Security
Office Modification: $ 146,515 (2019)
- Thousand Oaks High Modernization: $ 6,179,763 (2023)
- Walnut Elementary Landscape Beautification: $ 505,320 (2019)
- Weatherfield Elementary Landscape
Beautification: $ 443,512 (2019)
- Westlake High Modernization: $11,484,776 (2023)
- Westlake Hills Elementary Landscape
Beautification: $ 258,562 (2019)
- Wildwood Elementary Modernization: $ 222,348 (2019)
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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