By Michael Hernandez
THOUSAND OAKS—A softball mom, former board candidate and former recreational basketball player were among the community members asking the Conejo Valley Unified School Board (CVUSD) this past Tuesday to set fair facility fees.
“When fees are set to go up more than 300 percent, we can’t absorb that as a league nor pass these fees onto parents” said Heather Spohr, a softball mom at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Those type of fees are devastating to our budget and we can’t make field improvements like adding dirt to the fields which is a safety issue for our kids. We can’t update our helmets, shin guards or give scholarships to girls who want to play. We never turn away a girl who can’t pay. We’re not alone,” said Spohr. “Other non-profit youth groups make the same adjustment. We take this issue of costs seriously.”
(Editor’s Note: The Citizens Journal reported earlier this month that Thousand Oaks sports leagues could face rising costs of up to 1200 percent with the new fees being implemented by the Conejo Valley Unified School District which redefined what constituted a season and in charging for each field or court used. The school board responded at its Oct. 1 board meeting by directing district staff to revert back to the 2018-19 user fee schedule until the issue could be resolved with the assistance of a committee that included sports organization representatives, site administrators, and school board members to re-work the new pricing formulas that had been developed at a March board meeting. See:
“We are seeking public information,” said former school board candidate Amy Chen. “These are public funded facilities that belong to taxpayers.” Chen was questioning the school board for favoring the Conejo Schools Foundation (CSF)—a nonprofit booster club—with a “sweetheart deal” over all other nonprofits using school facilities and for charging for summer school which she stated was an “illegal act” sanctioned by the school board (which includes School Board member Cindy Goldberg, a paid executive for CSF and Board President Betsy Connolly, a CSF board member) in cooperation with the school district (Dr. Victor Hayek, Deputy Superintendent, Business Services, a CSF board member).
“I see a conflict of interest,” said Chen. “A booster club is prohibited from charging for summer school.” Chen went on to question why the power point (CVUSD Facility Use Overview presented by Dr. Victor Hayek) for not identifying the names of the top 20 facility users.
Chen claimed that the number two user of CVUSD facilities was the Conejo Schools Foundation with a line item from the presentation showing 7,834 hours with facility fees of $55,456 vs. $521,158 direct costs. The Deputy Superintendent later denied that the number two user was the CSF but admitted that the Thousand Oaks Chinese School was on the list.
Chen also claimed that the Chinese School was user number nine which showed 3,482 hours with facility costs of $70,000 with only $57,708 direct costs reported by the district (a district facility profit of $12,292). “We should not be seeing a blind list without knowing who the individual users are,” said Chen.
(Editor’s Note: To see Chen’s Sept. 17 CVUSD public comments highlighting what she alleges is an inappropriate and possibly illegal arrangement between the CSF and the CVUSD see link to: https://www.citizensjournal.us/former-school-board-candidate-challenges-summer-school-fees-board-president-refuses-to-consider-topic-in-future-board-meetings/. Those public comments resulted in Board President Betsy Connolly refusing to consider the topic in future CVUSD board meetings after Board Member Sandee Everett requested an investigation.)
“”Athletic teams that play basketball have seen their usage fees double,” said former recreation basketball player Silas Nesheiwet. “If the (basketball courts) price is not fair and equitable, people will not rent and consider renting other facilities for basketball. We should not be penalized.”
“I do not believe that the Conejo Schools Foundation is not one of the top 20 users in the district,” said Board member Sandee Everett. “I emailed (board president Betsy Connolly) and asked her to include the names of the organizations. I was denied that and this is a violation of the law. We’re talking about conflicts of interest.”
Everett claimed that conversations and decisions were being made by board members and district staff that needed to “recuse” themselves. “We are overcharging the Chinese School and undercharging the Conejo Schools Foundation. It is concerning. It seems like we are trying to hide (organization) names. The law is the law. We should be obeying the law.”
The CVUSD facility use review showed 48,513 usage hours for all facilities and with a revenue of $697,936 generated to the district and a district direct cost of $2,637,706. The report shows the top six facility usages were for:
- Baseball/softball fields: 20,739 hours (revenue of $38,744; direct cost of $918,769);
- Practice fields: 5,738 hours (revenue of $21,770; direct cost of $259,333);
- ES classrooms: 4,919 hours (revenue of $18,040; direct cost of $57,720);
- HS/MS classrooms: 4,583 hours (revenue of $98,531; direct cost of $71,700);
- HS/MS gym: 3,800 hours (revenue of $313,974; direct cost of $490,258); and
- Pool: 1,943 hours (revenue of $76,692 and direct cost of $370,577).
The report shows that the California Legislation Framework for Public Facility Management is the California Civic Center Act (Education Code Section 31830) which “authorizes a school district to grant the use of school facilities or grounds as a civic center, for specified purposes, upon terms and conditions deemed proper by the governing board.”
In September, 2012, Senate Bill 1404 “expanded the definition of direct costs to include capital costs, establishing a consistent method by which school districts calculate fees for the use of school facilities or grounds by outside entities.”
In August, 2016, Assembly Bill 1557 amended the Civic Center Act “to state that a recreation youth sports league is considered a non-profit only if it charges participants an average of no more than $60 per month.”
Passed in September 2019 and in effect until January 2025, Assembly Bill 1303 expanded on SB 1404 to authorize, and sometimes require, that a school district “charge community groups for the direct cost of facilities, which includes operating and administrative costs.”
According to the CVUSD, “the public has a right to utilize school facilities, albeit under approved Board of Education policy. As a result, the facilities wear down much faster than they should. Facility use fees should go to ensuring proper maintenance of school facilities. A cost recovery analysis helps the district understand how much it should charge in order to recoup its costs and improve maintenance and upkeep of it is facilities. The district uses Facilitron, which is an automated reservation and scheduling tool, that also gives access and insight into data.”
The CVUSD costs overview included: operating cost, program cost and capital cost. A cost analysis equation provides the district with facility cost per square foot and facility cost per hour. A facility rate category shows a direct cost rate for tier two users (non-profits) and a fair rental rate for tier three users who are commercial and for profit organizations.
Upon questioning, Dr. Victor Hayek told board member Jenny Fitzgerald that tier two users could include nonprofits which “operate for benefits outside of our district.”
Board President Betsy Connolly said the district is “not attempting to recover costs from users.” She then stated that Jenny Fitzgerald would be the board appointment to the facility use committee.
Dr. Hayek called the usage fee issue his “most challenging” as he worked with organizations with “deep roots and community ties. We will eliminate the gray areas and develop a solid fee schedule with who gets charged what. We will have a clear policy on how to work with (our) community partners and user groups.”
Other board action:
- Approved amendments to board policy regarding parent involvement (Title I):
- Approved a one-year Microsoft licensing agreement worth $116,000 from Nov. 1 to Oct. 31, 2020;
- Officially adopted intra district open enrollment amendments as it pertains to EARThS Magnet School; and
- Adopted a proclamation of Unity Day (Oct. 23) sponsored by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center encouraging “messages of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion” and declared October 2019 as Nationally Bullying Prevention Month.
(Editor’s Note: The CVUSD board spent one hour discussing facility use; but almost 90 minutes was spent discussing implementation of the California Healthy Youth Act—AB 329. To see the Citizens Journal story on inclusion of sex education and gender identity and gender expression in K-6 classrooms after verbally stating and posting in the district website that they would not, go to:
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].