Conejo Valley Unified School District School Board Candidate Forum: Written Responses 2018

CVUSD Candidate Forum Conejo Valley Unified School District

1. CVUSD has had steadily declining enrollment for over a decade which is causing a budget crisis with deficit spending of over $2MM last year. Do you believe enrollment can be turned around (why or why not)? State your plan to turn enrollment around if you believe it can be turned around.

Mike Yes we can reverse the enrollment decline. Here is my plan.
1.  End Common Core and restore local control of public education.
2.  More STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs like the new Ladera STAR Academy and ERTHS magnet school programs.
3.  Form a partnership between the district and home schoolers. Let the home schoolers pick their textbooks and participate in our music, arts and sports programs.
4. Enforce our Title 9 prohibitions against bullying, slander, harassment and hazing.  Every child should feel safe and secure in our schools.
Amy We absolutely CAN turn this trend around.
Only approximately two-thirds of Conejo Valley school-age children attend a CVUSD school, therefore, there is ample opportunity to fix this.
I understand that we often lose students simply because our district does not offer the right options.
My experiences with different education modalities have taught me many of the innovative ways, outside of what CVUSD currently offers, that parents are finding elsewhere to meet the educational needs of their children.
By reaching out to continually understand the needs of the thousands of local families not currently choosing our schools and then working to ensure that more flexible, individualized and innovative programs are provided by our district, we can serve more families in our community and grow our enrollment for the first time in a decade. If the current enrollment trends of losing 200-300 students per year are not reversed, the CVUSD will soon be facing heartbreaking decisions about school closures which will hurt property values and also mean the loss of teacher jobs.
Our schools provide a world-class education and many more families will choose to send their kids to their neighborhood school if there is a program there that meets their children’s needs – after all our schools are free, convenient and their kids can attend school with their neighborhood friends.
We can’t please everyone, but we can definitely please a sufficient number of families to bring more students into the CVUSD, grow our enrollment and save ALL our schools.
Angie I will do everything in my power to keep our schools open. If declining enrollment trends continue the threat of closing yet another neighborhood elementary school is going to exist.
The fact that 1 out of 3 local school aged children opt out of our local public schools is concern.  I believe our CVUSD enterprise needs to approach parents and students as consumers in a competitive market. If our CVUSD enrollment increases, many of our financial issues related to state funding models would be mitigated, and the threat of closing another elementary school would be diminished.
I believe that with the right leadership, innovation, and spirit of collaboration, our CVUSD enrollment numbers will rise. First, our CVUSD needs to better understand why families are opting out of our local schools, and make appropriate adjustments where possible to plug the leaks. I pledge to ensure quality after school childcare is available on site at ALL CVUSD elementary schools, for market rate fees, in order to meet the needs of 21st century Conejo Valley families. My family experienced the barrier of availability in the afterschool program at our local public school, and the number of families that opt out of our public schools due to a lack of access to afterschool care on site is something our district should evaluate.
Our school district needs to be open minded to better understand why parents are opting out of CVUSD and reimagine current programs that could bring enrollment numbers back up.
Marlon I believe the declining enrollment can be turned around by stabilizing the trust of the parents within the community.  Parents must be assured that when their children attend public school, the schools are attentive to the well being of the students, such as school safety, available support staff, and modernly successful educational concepts.  I would encourage the students to continue their education through and beyond the school district, so they may prove the excellence of the Conejo Valley school system.
Patrissha This is a difficult question to answer, because I feel there are factors that are often overlooked or have not been thoroughly addressed.  Factors such as children whose parents are not proficient in the English language and cross culturally parents whose primary language is English, but they have low literacy skills that negatively impact the literacy skills of their children, family responsibilities that are culturally defined (e.g. some cultures believe that the oldest children should work to help to support the family and forgo schooling or remain at home to be caregiver to younger siblings if parent(s) are working and cannot afford childcare), bullying, mental health issues, unstable home life, or other personal issues, and not being valued by the school district.
I am not sure declining enrollment can be fixed, but I feel the focus should be on maintaining current school enrollment by ensuring students that are enrolled are receiving whatever services are needed to ensure they will remain in school and be successful. Finally, I feel the school district should utilize Conejo Valley Adult School to help students who are on the verge of dropping out of school or have already dropped out to get their GED.  If elected, I would seek out grants that would pay for the cost of GED tutoring and testing.


2. A few candidates have mentioned increasing services for special education students. What cuts would you be willing to make to create the funding to increase services?


Amy  Every child should have their educational needs met and provided the necessary tools to achieve their educational potential. We have excellent teachers that strive to meet the needs of special education students. Our staff continues to work with parents to utilize our limited funds, collaborate and continually improve services.
State law mandates many important special education services but does not provide the funding to always adequately provide these services. The state must fix this and fund their mandates.
In the meantime, the limited funds we have need to be focused on our classrooms. We have to do more with less, be more effective, and cut waste.
I will support providing special education teachers with smaller class sizes and more support through scrutinizing the budget to cut waste as well as reduce administrative positions as I believe we have become somewhat top heavy.
Angie As a School Board Trustee, I will be there to champion and listen for the needs of all students and families. As a viable low cost solution to improve inclusion, I will advocate for more training and meaningful staff development for teachers to further enhance the program offerings of our general education classes in order to accommodate more students with diverse learning styles. CVUSD does not need to spend a ton of money to better understand and implement best practices from our neighboring school districts. Ultimately, I am not going to settle for doing more with less. You can count on me to be a champion for improving the resources available to our local schools, and I will put pressure on our state officials to tow the line in Sacramento.
Marlon To increase special education services through cuts, I would minimize the number of instructional days, but maintain the number of instructional hours.  This way, daily expenses are decreased, and students will continue the same amount of valued education.  School days would be longer with consistent break periods, and off days would be used for remote educational activities that would include family and peer support.
Patrissha I agree that services should be increased for special education students, but I do not feel cuts are necessary.  I believe city and community involvement is key and that school board members should tried to form partnerships with businesses to receive the funding needed.  In addition, the city should encourage developers building housing in the area to adopt a school or fund a program.
Mike The reality is that no candidate can promise an increase in services.  Increase spending for services is a negotiated item between the district and the our employee union representatives.  Historically, the unions have insisted on pay raises instead of increasing services to students.   This election the candidates making the promises of increased student services are also the ones endorsed by the unions.

3. Do you support the book policy, why or why not? If not, what would you change in the policy?

Angie As a person, I support guidance not censorship. I have always supported the newly officialized “Alternative Assignment Policy”, because I believe in parental rights. Additionally, I reviewed the content on the California Department of Education website that clearly supports an Alternative Assignment Policy, and in my opinion the “Book Policy” is overdue. As a parent, I appreciate as much information as possible being available to assist me and my husband in making the best choices for our son. Every child is different, and I covet the opportunity to lead certain discussions surrounding sensitive topics as a parent. I believe that content taught in high schools, to minors, containing graphic sexual violence and the rape of children should be proactively disclosed to parents and students. That seems like common sense.
Marlon I support the option for students to refrain from literature that will conflict with moral value and personal wellbeing.  Students and parents should have the freedom to have educational options, especially when the reading material is capable of effects that challenge moral judgement.  Students should be able to learn about empathy in the real world through literature, but also be protected from harmful ideas that may be traumatizing with long term effects.
Patrissha I do not have an issue with asterisks being placed beside literature or the opt out, which were elements of the original State policy.  However, I do have an issue with a panel of parents that will be chosen by each board member, because it will no doubt lead to lack of cultural diversity in literature selection and groupthink among some board members and parents.  Moreover, the fact that students and teachers will be left out of the process is troubling.  How can students develop their critical thinking skills if they are not allowed to have a voice concerning literature choices and it is an insult to teachers to not have a seat at the table; they are the professionals.  I think when there is divisiveness concerning any policy; board members should find a resolution that all parties involved can agree upon.
Mike I support the new book policy.  The policy is a big win for parent rights.  The new policy also establishes a new community book advisory committee composed of local parents, grand parents and tax payers. The policy accommodates more inclusion of local parents and taxpayers in our decision making policies.
Amy  I have consistently advocated for transparency and parental rights regarding required literature on our reading lists that contains graphic child rape and violence because it respects the sensitivities of children.

Transparency with parents is always best for building a trusting relationship.

This policy is similar to parental notification when a teacher shows an R-rated movie in class (a long-standing practice in the district).

Students have a right to ask for an alternative assignment but, prior to this policy, may not have known. Although some claim everyone has always been aware of their rights, the fact is, very few parents and students, especially minority parents and students, knew they could ask for alternative literature.

This policy does not ban any books but rather empowers the students so that, if a book is in conflict with personal sensibilities or values, they have an embarrassment-free way to receive an alternative reading option.

4. There are a lot of fees and educational costs that parents often end up paying in order for their children to participate in certain activities, such as sports or choir. Do you think that CVUSD should be paying more of these fees? If so, how should the school district find the funds to pay for these extracurricular activities and education costs that have traditionally been paid for by the parents?

Marlon I do not think the Board can afford to pay for the costs of extracurricular activities without involving the support of the parents.  When funds are required, the partnership of local businesses and sponsorships must come to the aide.  Advertisements are important for the economy and the school programs could benefit from the assistance of the community, as well as local businesses.
Patrissha I think funding extracurricular activities is a better use of district money, as opposed to spending funds on matters that do not benefit the students or the district.  In addition, school board members need to search for grants an should go out in the community and encourage businesses to fund extracurricular activities or other programs.  I would encourage the students to work with the school board to set up charitable donation fund accounts for the extracurricular activities or programs they would like to be funded.  I am not sure this is feasible, but if elected I would be willing to work with board members and others to determine if this is possible.
Mike In a lawsuit settled with the ACLU the district agreed to no mandatory fees.  That said I understand the enormous social pressure that some parents feel when asked to pay for the extracurricular fees.  The reality is that the district cannot afford to give cost of living increases to our employees and pay the extra curricular fees.  We simply do not have enough money.
Amy  The cost of some activities may make some children feel embarrassed if their family cannot afford the requested donations. This needs to be taken into consideration in regards to how we ask for donations.
The law ensures that no student should be denied participation in any program or activity because of the cost. Unfortunately a lack of district funds makes it necessary to ask for donations from parents, fundraise, ask businesses for sponsorships, etc. in order to continue our many extracurricular programs. If parents are asked to make a donation for their child to participate in an activity, and they choose to do so, there needs to be guidelines regarding transparency of requested donations. Donors should know that their donations may be helping to pay for other children and let the parents decide if they can afford to do that.
Angie A quality public education is definitely not free. Even though California’s income tax is the highest in the nation, our per-pupil funding is among the worst nationally. PTA’s and parent organizations are burdened with maintaining specialized P.E., art, playground supervision, and computer teachers. Our award winning schools are subsidized by parents via “suggested” donations, silent auctions, fundraisers, etc. Community members with grown children don’t usually realize that the traditional P.E. programs on elementary campuses were cut decades ago. And that art is taught by parent volunteers.

Mandating fees for extracurricular is prohibited by state law. The reality is the CVUSD Board of Trustees, as a governing body, is reactive to state and federal laws and funding formulas. Our local school board does not have the power to raise taxes and it is illegal in the state of California for mandatory fees to be charged to students for extracurricular activities.

5. Now that Common Core has been implemented for several years in our school district, do you believe it has been successful? If so, please explain why. If not, please explain why.

Patrissha Whether board members or candidates agree with Common Core or not, it has been implemented.  I think instead of complaining, board members should engage teachers, students, and parents to find out how they feel about Common Core and if any improvements are needed.  If there are areas of concern, then the board should proceed to find solutions to improve its effectiveness.  If there needs to be change to Common Core on the state level, then the school board should try to meet with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to discuss their concerns and provide suggestions for improvement.
Mike Common core is a failure.  Common core eliminated most of local control of public education.  We were doing a better job of educating our children before the Federal Government forced us to implement Common Core.  Common Core is one of the reasons our enrollment has declined.
Amy  Common Core, federal overreach at best, is a set of centrally mandated curriculum rules and tests for what children are to learn in each K-12 grade. The Gates Foundation has spent more than $400 million itself and influenced $4 trillion in U.S. taxpayer funds towards this goal. Eight years later, however, Common Core has proven to be a failure.
Common Core had no pilot before it went national. There wasn’t even a draft available to the public before states were hooked into contracts.
After $4 trillion spent, Common Core has mangled years of education for American K-12 kids and teachers, and caused frustration to students and parents alike. Education should be controlled as locally as possible in order for the board to be responsive to their diverse local student population.
Angie I have concerns about Common Core adoption, implementation training, testing, and losing local control. Local schools need to preserve autonomy to develop learning strategies and policies that are best for their individual communities. The presentation of Common Core math concepts seems to be a source of contention for some parents, including me. I whole-heartedly believe that critical thinking skills are invaluable, but I am not totally sold on Common Core Math. My goal is for our young learners to be inspired and excited about math, not to feel like they have failed when really we have asked them to engage in an activity that is beyond their ability level or feel stressed if we have not provided our teachers with the appropriate professional development to be comfortable with the content. My charter as a Trustee would be to ensure the teachers have what they need to successfully implement Common Core.
Marlon Common Core is intended to provide an education for students to achieve a college education and prepare students for a future of advanced learning.  Common Core is a new development in education and will need time to mature, therefore I support the Common Core Standards if they are designed to increase the cognitive development of the District’s students.

6. Cyber-bullying is an issue many students face. What can the school board do to ensure students understand what cyber bullying is and what programs do you believe would help prevent cyber bullying.

Mike The district has a program in place to help stop cyber-bullying.  Once the victim complains to any district employee our Title 9 Coordinator begins an investigation.  Evidence is gathered.  Witnesses are interviewed.  A report is submitted.  A solution is promoted.  If the victim is not satisfied, the report and recommendation can be appealed all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.
I am optimistic that once we begin to strictly enforce punishment against cyber bullies that the abuse will stop.
Amy  There are many forms of cyber-bullying which can include posting rumors, threats, someone’s personal information, sexual remarks, or general mean-spirited messages about another person. That is never ok. There should always be zero tolerance for bullying of any kind.

I believe cyber-bullying contributes to depression and anxiety.  According to the California Department of Education Healthy Kids Survey of CVUSD students, approximately thirty-percent of our students surveyed said they experienced chronic sadness and approximately twenty-percent said they had contemplated suicide.
I would support any programs school administrators, counselors or teachers choose to implement that educate the students regarding what is considered bullying, how to report it and how to prevent it. We should partner with local agencies such as local law enforcement for training and education regarding cyberbullying.

Angie As an adult, I believe it is important to model how to treat others with kindness and respect. Experiencing the 2018 school board campaign as a candidate has given me some great insight to how challenging it must be for teens out there on social media. First, I believe our school district needs to do a better job of defining cyber bullying and ensuring our students know what to do if they are experiencing cyber attacks that might include things like: rumors, inappropriate photos, threats, or tactics that are intended to scare or be upsetting. Not only do parents need to be educated about how to support their children in navigating cyber bullies, but also, I believe there must be a community effort to ensure local leaders are not normalizing bad behaviors on-line. Healthy community values must be restored and preserved in the Conejo Valley.
Marlon I think students should be required take an online course on cyber bullying.  This will allow the students to interact with in a simulated experience on the effects of cyber bullying.  Students will be responsible for the behavior of their online actions and subject to disciplinary consequences when it includes other students within the district.
Patrissha I believe cyber-bullying is an issue that requires parent involvement, because parents must be willing to act if it is proven their child is bullying someone online or face-to-face bullying at school.  I do not believe there is a full proof way to eliminate cyberbullying, but the website Cyberbullying Research Center offers resources that can help minimize cyberbullying.  I also think school board members should invite experts in the field of cyberbullying to conduct seminars for educators, board members, and office staff on how to identify and address cyberbullying. I also think the school district should invite victims of cyberbullying and those who have suffered bullying of any kind to speak to students.

7. Board Bylaw 9010 states, “…the Board encourages members who participate on social networking sites, blogs, or other discussion or informational sites to conduct themselves in a respectful, courteous, and professional manner and to model good behavior for district students and the community.” Please state your interpretation of what this Board Bylaw means and how you would follow it as a board member

Patrissha I would treat others how I would like to be treated, so I would not engage in personal attacks or threats or engage in vengeful acts that could possible bring harm to an individual and their family.  As a board member I would limit my time spent on social media and if I did post it would be informative, inspiring, or fun information.
Mike My interpretation is that trustees should not be using social media to promote their politically correct agendas.  The purpose of the public schools is to educate our children not indoctrinate them.
Amy  Social media is a powerful tool. I believe we should only use social media to build up people, be positive and be encouraging. Public elected officials should hold themselves to the highest standards of dignity and respect when interacting with the public on social media as well as in person.

School board trustees need to be an example to the community and be a model to students in demonstrating tolerance and respect. It helps bring the community together and increase community confidence in the school district if all school board members set the example through abiding by this bylaw.

Angie School board trustees, parents, and community leaders should be showing our students that there is no place for bullying in our CVUSD Schools or on social media. Sure, people can have different opinions and political discussions on Facebook if that’s what they are into.  But when those talks cross over to taunting, harassment, invasions of privacy, or threats, it’s something different. The discourse being displayed on social media regarding our CVUSD is sad and very concerning. I am doing my best to stay away from the social media drama because it is not conducive to healthy dialogue. It has gotten to the point where I think the board should have a discussion to consider if Trustees should refrain from using social media. At the very least our Trustees should be accountable for social media and email use and set an example to our children. Kids learn from adults’ actions.
Marlon Board Bylaw 9010 encourages Board members to remain professional when speaking to the public.  With the advancement of technological communication, Board members can be subjected to correspondence through social media networks.  It is important for Board members to know that words can be taken out of context, and to be cautious of what is publicly said.  As a Board member, I would entrust the Board spokesperson to maintain the order and conduct of the Board.

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