This and That about CVUSD, the Conejo Valley Unified School District
School Board President Jenny FItzgerald suddenly quits…
It was on May 20th, 6 weeks ago, that the news flew around the Conejo Valley that school board President Jenny Fitzgerald was quitting her job. She posted on her Twitter account that due to multiple family circumstances, she would be resigning. She would be returning to the San Francisco Bay area where she grew up and went to law school. Her husband had been working in SF since January as a corporate lawyer for VIR, a European company located in the City. Their 2 children, a teen daughter and a pre-teen son, are said to be already living up north. So it was time to move on.
Jenny’s daughter drafts controversial dress code…
Her daughter Abby, became a public figure this spring at age 14, when she presented on Zoom her updated board policy on dress codes. The policy created outrage among families in Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park by allowing strapless tops for both boys and girls, and trans students. No more strict rules on the length of shorts or skirts. Navels are not shameful, she said, so crop tops for both boys and girls are fine. The policy does state that there are still certain taboos. No nipples can be exposed by any gender person. No genitals either, thank goodness. Wow! Parents have taken to calling this the “undress” code.
Now back to Mom…
It was on June 15th at a board meeting that Jenny announced that this would be her last. This was in spite of the fact that she still hadn’t officially resigned. She could have dragged it out all summer if she wanted to keep her health insurance. Nothing was official. Finally, On June 30th I saw under her photo on the CVUSD webpage on Board Members that she had filed her resignation papers five days earlier on June 25th!!. What a lousy way to inform the public! It was NOT on the home page under announcements. It read that she had submitted her papers, and that the date was effective July 1st. Very poor communication. I immediately contacted several newspapers and politicians to give them the news, and to complain that this was a poor excuse for a public announcement from CVUSD, coming several days after the fact.
By law, Jenny still was President even after June 25th when she submitted her resignation. The clock started ticking on June 25th for the 60 day deadline for action from the board. They must appoint or announce a special election by August 24th. She was President for 5 more days until her deferral date of July 1, It all had to be done in writing and sent to the new County Superintendent of Education, Cesar Morales.
Here is the information from the CVUSD Board Bylaws on filling vacancies:
“When a vacancy occurs four or more months before the end of a Board member’s term, the Board shall, within 60 days of the date of the vacancy or the filing of the member’s deferred resignation, either order an election or make a provisional appointment, unless a special election is mandated as described below. (Education Code 5091)”
Rewind to the aforementioned June 15th meeting…
That meeting went until after midnight. Lots of drama. Especially about the dress code, graphic sex ed curriculum, and CRT Critical Race Theory. It’s recorded, so feel free to watch the Tuesday night fights in Thousand Oaks on the CVUSD website! Many people say it is more addictive than Netflix. The highlight was when Jenny noticed a member of the public had dropped his mask under his nose just after 12 am. I was watching live on tv at home, wondering if it mattered that it was now Wednesday, and maybe a new COVID mandate had come out. It was hard to hear him speaking from the floor without a mic. So I drove back to the meeting (I had spoken against CRT at 10:30) to ask him what the heck had happened. He repeated what he had said to her, that the CDC said it was OK to attend meetings unmasked if one was double vaccinated, which he was. He had a printed copy of the CDC announcement from Tuesday morning. Jenny told him to leave the room. He didn’t. He remained seated and ignored her illegal order.
Jenny asked if the police were still there and asked them to come in from the lobby. The 3 police officers were also unmasked so late in the night. She asked for a sergeant. He came in, looked around at the peaceful scene, and just stood in the back. She directed him to remove the man, who all could see was not causing a disturbance nor breaking the law. The officer didn’t move, except to cross his arms over his chest. Jenny asked him if he was refusing her direction. He was silent. She said, so for the record, you are refusing. He continued to observe the room, and did not answer her.
Then Jenny told Dr. Victor Hayek, the second highest official in the district, to remove the man. Hayek also stayed silent. He was not about to manhandle a grandfather of eight! Now for those of you who didn’t know this, in another life Dr. Hayek had served as a policeman in New Jersey! As a former law enforcement officer, he must have known that what Mrs. Fitzgerald had in mind was a very bad idea, if not illegal. Also, it was certainly not part of his job description as Deputy Superintendent of Business Services to become a bouncer. And to top it off, he was not supposed to take direct orders from her. In fact, it is actually a violation of board policy for any trustee to command a service from an employee. It says in CVUSD Board Bylaws under Section 9000 “Unless agreed to by the Board as a whole, individual members of the Board shall not exercise any administrative responsibility with respect to the schools or command the services of any school employee.” I wonder if a complaint was filed against her before she resigned? Since she is an attorney, this would surely not be something she would ever want on her record.
All this commotion happened during the last 15 minutes of her leadership of the board. What a melt down! Everyone in the room knew she would soon be leaving our town and that she was a short-timer. On the other hand, the police, parents and employees who live here have an ongoing stake in this community. There was no way those folks were going to fight for her. It was a stalemate–a Mexican Standoff–and she gave in. Jenny continued the meeting, and the man continued to quietly listen while staying lawfully unmasked. There were fewer than 6 people on the floor of the room, including employees. Everyone was social distancing. There was no danger. It was an embarrassing ending for President Jenny Fitzgerald, and a victory for parents who want their voices heard and their civil rights observed. It was a good reminder about who pays the salaries of police, staff and board members in the Conejo Valley. Taxpayers and voters must be respected. Government workers must not oppress the public.
Let’s revisit the issue of the vacancy…
So there are TONS of codes that have to be consulted on how to handle this vacancy. The board now has the official resignation date. They are obligated to make a decision before August 24th as to whether to call for a special election (since it is more than 130 days before the November 2022 vote) or to make an appointment. If they appoint, and the public is unhappy, then there is a remedy. The public has 30 days after the appointment to get signatures of 1.5% of voters in that area. The pickle now is that there isn’t a firm decision on just which area should be considered the voting area.
When I called the Elections Office 6 weeks ago I was put on hold, and then told that based on past elections that had boundaries moved, the person filling the vacancy has to align with the same requirements as the original candidate. Since Jenny was elected At Large, then the appointment and possible special election must also be At Large. That is a huge difference in money for both the candidates and the CVUSD which has to foot the bill for the election.
When I called again on July 1 to the Elections Office, I was told that it is still not settled. The attorneys for the CVUSD are still looking over documents. The clerk at the County told me it all comes down to verbiage in the actual Resolution. I said I only saw the future continuous tense, “will be transitioning” in reference to voting by areas. But I didn’t see every document. The clerk said that the language in another district with a similar situation was much clearer, stating in the simple future tense that they “will transition” in 20xx. with a specific date. There are 12 tenses in English. All of them matter. They mean different things. (Yes, I’m a linguist–a certified military linguist in two languages with a degree in French Lit.) So, if this is too nerdy for you, then we will fast forward to the “what if’s” section.
No candidates for an appointment? Then the County Supt calls for a special election, with no signatures needed.
No candidates for an election in Nov 22? (Very unlikely, but it can happen in a small district. CVUSD is the largest in the county.) Then it is a failed election and the board appoints.
The board makes an appointment within 60 days that is acceptable to the opposition? Then there is no need for a special election if there is consensus. It works like a truce.
There are many moving parts here. Many possible paths for either appointees or candidates in a special election, or the general in November 2022. It is an old saying that the best solution is one when neither side gets everything they want. Let’s hope a civil compromise is accomplished. I hope that the vacancy gets filled without a blood bath whether among rivals similar agendas, or with the opposition. Let’s all play nice.
There is work to be done on the school board that can’t wait. Contracts to sign, positions to fill, supplies to order, repairs must be made, etc. It is not all about 2 or 3 hot political agendas. However, the reality is that a board must listen to the public and seek to address their concerns while balancing the everyday obligations of running a huge school district. It may mean more meetings per month. It may mean having general public comments at both ends of every meeting as they do in Berkeley. It may mean less travel and fewer conferences in order to balance the budget deficit that is expected with attendance loss.
Firstly, the voting area must be determined and agreed to by the Elections Office. That has to happen ASAP. At that point this vacancy must either be filled before August 24th with a provisional appointment, or a special election must be announced on or before before that date. I predict that the lawyers will be forced to find that it is indeed an At Large area, and not limited to the new Area 2. If I’m correct, and it is determined to be at Large, then the board must advertise the interim vacancy and clearly state that the candidates for the appointment will be welcomed from anywhere in the district.
Regardless, if there is opposition to the appointed person, then that group (or individual) has only 30 days from the appointment announcement to gather signatures from 1.5% of eligible voters from the designated voting area, be it the small Area 2, or the entire CVUSD voting area to ask for a special election If the forms are deemed valid, then the Election Officer will pick a date for a special election. And he has Election Code law that he has to conform to as far as deadlines for appropriate dates. So much spaghetti here!
And just FYI, the permanent transition to the last three remaining new voting areas will become active very soon for the campaign cycle for the November 2022 election for three seats; Jenny Fitzgerald’s, Bill Gorback’s and Cindy Goldberg’s.
In Ventura County a candidate for school board can start their campaign a whopping 365 days before the scheduled election. Very unusual. That did happened in 2019 for the CVUSD 2020 election with one candidate, and she dropped out early. Candidates who start that soon are then subject to campaign finance laws on contributions and spending, and must report monies every quarter (which is a major pain). So, if you want to run in 2022, you can file your papers with the County and start on November 7, 2021. That’s about four short months from now. Good luck!