Conejo Valley public schools remain mired in academic mediocrity, even as the district has received tens of millions of extra dollars for vaguely COVID-related programs and projects.
The latest evidence of alarming decline came from assistant superintendent of instructional services Kenneth Loo, who informed the CVUSD school board at a recent meeting that only 56 percent of graduating seniors are meeting basic requirements for admission to Cal State and UC schools.
“Just more than half of our students last year did meet the [Cal State and UC] requirements,” Loo reported at the March 1 board meeting.
This means nearly half of all graduating seniors in Conejo Valley public schools are receiving D’s and F’s in foundational classes such as history, English, mathematics and laboratory sciences.
This puts CVUSD in the same category as low-performing schools statewide, which are eligible for funds to address ongoing academic problems. By comparison, 80 percent of Oak Park Unified School District graduates meet basic requirements. Nearby districts like Moorpark and Los Angeles Unified are in the same low range as CVUSD, which once was a destination district for parents seeking an outstanding education for their children.
At the March 15 meeting, Loo presented a plan to spend the extra $543,821 in grants that CVUSD will receive from the State to address its embarrassing academic situation. The four-year goal going forward is to bring up minimum academic performance by 10 points to 66 percent of students — which is just below what the State considers acceptable. Board members unanimously voted to accept the half-million-dollar grant to try to improve the district’s lagging educational offering.
Meanwhile, CVUSD has received a whopping $40,000,000 in coronavirus relief packages since March 2020 — more than the district presently knows how to spend on its dwindling student population (now hovering at around 16,625 students and officially projected to drop to 15,910 students in 2023).
Much of that $40,000,000 is difficult to track. For example, CVUSD received $12,321,124 to fund what the board vaguely calls “social-emotional training and curriculum,” plus things like COVID-19-era “campus safety assistants.”
Another $3,739,625 was allotted to CVUSD in November 2021 in the form of an “Educate Effectiveness Block Grant Plan.” A detailed breakdown of these funds reveals a pervasive emphasis on what is called “Social-Emotional Learning” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training.”
Because the funding provisions are so broad, accountability structures allow the district essentially to funnel money into whatever the school board desires without much public scrutiny. Less than a quarter of the $40,000,000 goes into anything that looks like classroom learning for students, according to a January 31 report by the district.
Deputy superintendent of business services Victor Hayek acknowledged at the March 15 meeting that the unusual infusion of cash will soon disappear, leaving the district with the same hard questions about lagging academic performance.
“[W]e’re going to see a huge uptick in revenues and then proportionally in expenses. And then when the stimulus funds are gone, we’re going to see a decline of both of those revenues and expenses,” said Hayek. “In a situation such as this, when we’ve had such a large cash infusion to the tune of plus-$40,000,000, it provides us tremendous opportunities to do a number of programs. In the ‘22-’23 school year, we’ll have to sit down and reflect … and there might have to be a conversation of reprioritizing.”
A simple calculation shows that $40,000,000 divided by 16,625 — the number of students presently enrolled at CVUSD schools — equals $2,406, enough for each student to pay for 6-8 hours of private monthly tutoring for 12 months a year. This possibility has not been raised by the board.
The Guardian will continue to report on the decline of a once-vaunted school district and examine how CVUSD is spending massive federal and state grants — and whether or not the huge windfall of cash leads to corresponding academic improvement for students.