By Michael Hernandez
THOUSAND OAKS—The Conejo Schools Foundation fee-based summer school program was challenged during public hearing comments made by former school board candidate Amy Chen which resulted in a heated exchange between Conejo Valley Unified School Board President Betsy Connolly and Board Member Sandee Everett at the close of Tuesday’s board meeting when Everett’s request for an investigation of the matter at a future board meeting was overruled by Connolly.
Chen brought eight large posters highlighting what she alleged was an inappropriate and possibly illegal arrangement between the Conejo Schools Foundation and the Conejo Valley Unified School District after being refused the ability to project the information during public comments at the school board meeting.
Chen’s eight posters shared the following:
- CVUSD board action on Dec. 11, 2018 which reauthorized parent support/booster organizations (including the Conejo Schools Foundation) stating that “it is expected that booster organizations comply with the California Education Code prohibiting pupil fees for participation in educational activities, which includes extra-curricular activities” according to Board Policy 1230;
- Bylaws of the Conejo Schools Education Foundation which states that “all provisions of the CVUSD Policy 1230 will be implemented” (dated 3/24/2014);
- CVUSD 2018-2019 Rental Fee schedule which shows that district fees apply to all district groups (including the Conejo Schools Foundation) and that direct cost groups include verified 501 (c) (3) organizations;
- The Conejo Schools Foundation’s Get Ahead Summer 2018 document that shows payment must accompany registration;
- The Conejo Schools Foundation profit and loss for June 2017 through July 2018 which shows that the Get Ahead Summer program generated an income of nearly $310,000;
- A July 28, 2017 document from the California Department of Education that shows according to the California Education Code as amended by Assembly Bill 1575 in 2012 “provides that a pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity, including but not limited to, curricular and extra curricular activities. Pupil fee is defined as a fee, deposit or charge imposed on pupils, or a pupil’s parents, or guardians including but not limited to: a fee charged to a pupil as a condition for registering for school or classes, or as a condition for participation in a class or an extracurricular activity, regardless of whether the class or activity is elective or compulsory, or is for credit” and “that charges may not be levied for the following: a tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment in any class or course of instruction, including a fee for attendance in a summer or vacation school…Therefore, tuition or any such fee or charge relating to summer school is prohibited under California Code of Regulations, title 5 (5 COR), section 350”;
- The Opinions of the Attorney General indicate “that charges may not be levied for the following: A tuition fee or charges as a condition of enrollment in any class or course of instruction including a fee for attendance in a summer or vacation school, a registration fee…Therefore, tuition or any such fee or charge relating o summer school is prohibited under California Code of Regulations, title 5 (5 CCR), section 350”;
- “In 1874 the State Supreme Court held that this provision entitled students to be educated at public expense: the California Education Code as amended by Assembly Bill (AB) 1575 in 2012, provides that a pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity.”
Supt. Mark McLaughlin responded to Chen’s allegations of inappropriate summer school charges by stating that this was “misinformation” of the legal standing of Conejo Schools Foundation which is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit independent legal entity and that the district had no control over the operations of the foundation. McClaughlin proceeded to call money raised as “donations” and he distinguished between the “remedial program” where there are no fees and other summer programs offered.
Meanwhile, Board Member Sandee Everett waited till the last board agenda item concerning future topics to propose that the school board investigate this topic with both Board President Besty Connolly (a board member of the Conejo Schools Foundation) and Board Member Cindy Goldberg (who serves as Executive Director of the Conejo Schools Foundation) recused from this discussion because of their role as stakeholders. This request ignited the heated exchange between Connolly and Everett with Connolly saying that this topic would not be placed on a future board agenda.
Opponents to the summer fees claim that being an independent non-profit does not answer the problem with charging summer fees. The critics state that both the Conejo Schools Foundation and the Conejo Valley Unified School District “appear to be violating the law; but if California gives them a pass with the Uniform Complaint appeal, then that really is big news…that would mean that any school district can avoid AB 1575 and charge tuition simply by using a booster club to run summer school, weekend school, evening school…and why not the regular day school?”
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. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].