By Jim Clark
This spring, the California Department of Education (CDE) released its official statewide enrollment report for all school districts. The bad news is that the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) continued its eleven-year trend in declining enrollment that is driving the current budget crisis in the school district. This coming fall, enrollment is likely to plunge even more due to parent frustration with how CVUSD mishandled students’ educational experience during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Contrary to popular belief, most local school funding does not come from local taxes. The majority of local school funding comes from the state, and it is based on enrollment – specifically Average Daily Attendance (ADA). This is why the CVUSD enrollment crisis is so tightly linked with its budget crisis.
As can be seen by the chart displayed, the enrollment crisis started in 2008, when Betsy Connolly was first elected to the school board. Trustee Connolly aggressively fought against charter schools, leading the charge specifically against chartering MATES and Bridges. CVUSD ultimately refused to charter these two schools, so they were instead chartered by Ventura County. Consequently, CVUSD lost the ADA funding for two whole schools worth of students.
That was the beginning of Connolly’s baffling vendetta against community parents and the associated negative enrollment trend in CVUSD. There are currently more than 7,000 school-age children in the Conejo Valley that DO NOT attend our public schools. They attend private schools, home school, public schools outside our area, and charter schools not under the supervision of CVUSD.
School board member Sandee Everett has frequently sounded the alarm about the enrollment crisis. For three years, she has been pointing out that CVUSD needs to start attracting back these 7,000 students or the district will face teacher layoffs and neighborhood school closures. “There are definitely things that could be done to quickly improve enrollment,” stated Everett. “Most parents would love to take advantage of a free public school education if we provide the right fit. We must provide more flexibility and have a willingness to accommodate a wider range of educational needs. We should talk to parents and truly listen to them, so we can address why so many are choosing other options.”
The enrollment crisis may be about to get a lot worse, which would have a devastating impact on the budget, due to loss of ADA. Layoffs and school closures may now be inevitable, but this did not need to happen. Many parents in the Conejo Valley are furious about the way “distance learning” was handled by the district during the COVID-19 lockdown. Most students had dramatically less teacher contact when classes transitioned to being online or email-based. Some other nearby school districts were able to have much more live online instruction.
The fall reopening schedule does not look promising at CVUSD schools. Students will only be attending approximately 2.5 hours per day, so parents are likely to feel they are being short-changed educationally. It is difficult to imagine local students being effectively prepared for college with less than half of the class time they receive in a normal year. This will also create hardships on working parents who might now be forced to quit their job to be home with their kids.
As another after-school alternative, parents could choose to send their children to day care, which is expensive and would defeat the stated purpose (COVID-19 mitigation) of the shortened school days.
When the parents were surveyed a couple months ago about their preferences for the fall school schedule, the majority of parents and teachers simply wanted to return to the old schedule – all day, five days a week. The district appears to have ignored the parents’ and teachers’ preferences. This does not seem to be a good way to build goodwill – or to reverse the embarrassing enrollment trend.
Great schools translate to great college choices and great jobs for the graduating students – as well as great real estate values for their parents. Conejo Valley parents are not likely to quietly give up their great schools just because Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and the school board majority are unwilling to listen to parents.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.
Jim Clark is a resident of the Conejo Valley