By Nic Rivera
On Friday, April 3, the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) posted the agenda for the board meeting coming up on Tuesday, April 7. The plans for Tuesday’s meeting were met with outrage by many members of the community for a variety of reasons. First, board members apparently have the option of attending in person or by teleconference, but if any members of the public wish to make comments, they are required to attend in person despite the health order for residents to stay at home.
Second, the Superintendent (Mark McLaughlin) and Board President (Cindy Goldberg) have placed controversial items on the agenda related to Conejo Schools Foundation (CSF), which has been under fire recently for corruption. Goldberg is the Executive Director for CSF, so the timing of these agenda items has raised eyebrows.
CVUSD has stated that public speakers will be allowed into the board room one at a time to make comments. The queue for people to make comments will extend outside with cones placed six feet apart for social distancing. This is upsetting for many members of the public who would like to comment on this issue, but do not feel comfortable violating the stay-at-home order to jeopardize their own health or the health of others. Many are now calling for the resignations of McLaughlin and Goldberg.
Ironically, Thousand Oaks City Council member Rob McCoy recently resigned from the council over a similar issue. On Palm Sunday, his church offered the Eucharist (Communion) to members of his congregation at Godspeak Calvary Chapel. Worshippers lined up outside, staying at least 6 feet apart. Each would go into the sterilized chapel one at a time, and would pick up an individually wrapped and covered package. The church also passed out food – much like the CVUSD school lunch program that has been distributing food throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. The church appeared to comply with CDC regulations.
The physical logistics of the Godspeak Calvary Chapel Communion was very similar to what CVUSD has planned for Tuesday’s board meeting. The same members of the public who criticized McCoy for arranging this act of service to his flock should also be criticizing CVUSD for its similar logistics at the upcoming board meeting.
Of course, maybe CVUSD just doesn’t expect anybody to show up on Tuesday. This is why many are upset about the questionable items on the agenda, thinking that CVUSD might be trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to slip items past the public that are related to the controversial Conejo Schools Foundation.
The Conejo Schools Foundation has been under fire for months for ignoring its signed agreement with CVUSD to comply with pupil fee laws (AB 1575, for example). The CSF summer school program hires CVUSD teachers to teach classes on the Thousand Oaks High School campus. Goldberg is paid $55,000 annually to run CSF. Goldberg’s summer school program receives taxpayer benefits such as free usage of CVUSD textbooks, office staff, and technology as well as heavily discounted rent and free advertising by CVUSD school sites.
CVUSD has been quietly addressing some of CSF’s legal compliance without fanfare and without admitting that any problems exist. It is unclear why CVUSD has been doing this since stopping future illegal activity does not absolve them from refunding tuition illegally collected in the past – which is required by law. The new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CVUSD and CSF that is being discussed at the upcoming board meeting includes:
- Another sweetheart deal for 3 years of discounted District facility usage for the summer school program.
- Continued free use of CVUSD textbooks, technology and teaching materials.
Things that are being removed from the MOU in order address complaints:
- CVUSD will no longer provide CSF with background checks for the CVUSD teachers
- CVUSD will no longer provide taxpayer funded office staff to CSF for summer school.
The Thousand Oaks Chinese School’s Memorandum of Understanding for facility usage also happens to be on the agenda for this Tuesday. The public has compared benefits provided to CSF with those provided to the Chinese School. For example, the Chinese School is charged above what is allowed by law for rent while CSF is provided a free year-round office at District headquarters for Cindy Goldberg, as well as free usage of CVUSD facilities for CSF board meetings. The issue with overcharging the Chinese School for rent is not addressed in the new Memorandum of Understanding.
Many feel CVUSD favoritism toward CSF stems from Cindy Goldberg being on the school board along with Betsy Connolly who is a CSF board member. But these two aren’t the only ones in CVUSD leadership connected to CSF. CVUSD assistant superintendent of business services Victor Hayek is also on the CSF board and superintendent Mark McLaughlin is on the CSF Stakeholder Council.
Are Goldberg and McLaughlin using the COVID-19 crisis to try to sneak through a new Memorandum of Understanding for Goldberg’s foundation? Without the health concerns, these agenda items would typically have brought a lot of the community out in protest. The way that CVUSD is organizing this meeting could raise concerns that they are trying to minimize public exposure for these topics.
UPDATE: After public outcry, CVUSD has now added an option for people to make public comments via telephone during Tuesday’s board meeting. Members of the public must call the district by 2pm on Tuesday and provide the telephone number where they should be called when it is their turn to speak. Since public speakers are normally allowed to speak without providing identifying info, the requirement to now provide a telephone number may be problematic. It is unlikely that CVUSD can force public speakers to disclose confidential information like that.
Nic Rivera is a resident of Ventura County
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.