Candidate for CVUSD Board of Education
Q&A date: Saturday, April 14 at 10 a.m.
Anonymous Mommy Facebook Page
Nelson Buss is running for one of the three available seats on the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) board. The elections take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Nelson has agreed to participate in my online CVUSD Candidate Q&A forum and below you will find his completed candidate questionnaire that all candidates were required to fill out. I encourage you to read about his views for the CVUSD prior to his online Q&A session, in which he'll be available to answer any questions you may have for him.
Each candidate put a tremendous amount of time into their answers and if you feel inclined, please support them by donating to their campaigns. It's been estimated that school board candidates will need to raise nearly $30,000 in order to run a successful campaign this year. They need your financial support if you want to have their presence on the board.
All announced candidates (except incumbents) were extended the same invitation to participate in an inclusive, interactive online Q&A. (I realize we all have busy schedules, and attending in-person Q&A forums isn't always feasible, therefore I created this Q&A platform so that no matter where your plans might have you on any given day, you can participate or follow along online.) In order to participate, each candidate was required to complete 10 pre-selected questions (a mix of questions I contributed as well as contributions from the community), and an additional five questions of their choosing from a list of questions that were submitted by community residents.
Each candidate has agreed to be available to participate and engage for one hour on the Anonymous Mommy Facebook page as an opportunity for the community to interact with them, and ask questions about their platform, or seek clarification on their answers.
In order to provide a balanced platform, I will refrain from injecting any personal commentary on Q&A-related material, however, I reserve the right to share my opinions on school board-related topics and candidates outside of this Q&A forum.
Five of the six announced candidates agreed to participate. You can learn more by visiting my CVUSD Candidate Q&A information page on my website.
Nelson Buss, candidate for CVUSD school board, is a local father, husband, businessman, and 29-year resident of Thousand Oaks. After spending his youth living overseas and in multiple cities in the United States due to his father’s military career, Nelson and his family settled in the Conejo Valley in time for Nelson to graduate from Thousand Oaks High School. He attended both Moorpark College and California Lutheran University, where he studied computer science. After working in automotive service for 18 years, he embarked on a career in real estate to optimize his time with his wife and family. Nelson is committed to local charities, serving as the co-chair for the Thousand Oaks Rotary Chili Cook-Off, and donates his time and money to causes that include: the Reading Is Fundamental program at Conejo Elementary School, My Stuff Bags Foundation, and Conejo Community Outreach.
His wife Amy, an Army veteran, works as a teacher in the Conejo Valley Unified School District. Together, they have two daughters, Tristan and Dylan; he is also the stepfather to CJ, a Marine currently serving in Japan, and Autumn, who attends college in Texas.
Becoming a father inspired Nelson to become a strong advocate for a quality education in this school district. Nelson hopes that by winning a school board seat he can bring a new era of pragmatism and consensus building to the Board, something that will be desperately needed during an era of declining enrollment and a predicted decline in state funding.
1. In 2017, arguably two of the largest policy votes by the board centered on curriculum decisions. In January, the board worked its way through eventually voting on how the district would implement the FAIR Act, with amended verbiage provided by board member Sandee Everett, after she requested more time to understand the policy. In November, the community witnessed the contentious board meetings and eventual board majority approval of an alternative assignment and curriculum review policy first put into motion by then-board president Mike Dunn’s contentions about approving “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” and current board president John Andersen’s vote of approval for the book with the caveat a policy be crafted. What do you believe a school board’s role is in curriculum decisions and how they are implemented at the district level?
Without question, the school board is responsible for advocating the direction of school district curriculum. As members of the community and the people most answerable to the community’s desires through the electoral process, it is important that the board be involved in the shaping of policy. It is my belief that the current board is not reflecting the vision of the community for our children accurately. Thousand Oaks is becoming ever more diverse, inclusive, and forward-thinking. The world is shifting away from the traditional roles and power structures that have held sway for decades. I firmly believe resistance to the FAIR Act itself is rooted in bigotry and hate, and I personally have no patience for that. I do, however, recognize that elected representatives are bound to find ways to let everyone work under the same tent whenever possible. The request to codify an ad hoc opt out program is not unreasonable. Demonizing literature that has been approved by the State of California DOE in a letter sent to parents annually is unreasonable. Parental education advocacy groups are not an unreasonable idea. A board created and empaneled to be a gauntlet run for pre-approved literature is farcical. We need our professionals to be sensitive to the needs of the community, not have them browbeaten by cherry-picked activists.
2. It was announced in July that California’s funding for the District of Choice program was given a six-year extension. We’ve seen conversation this year regarding concerns about how District of Choice has affected CVUSD enrollment, with a significant amount of transfers out of district to Oak Park and LVUSD. Dr. Connolly proposed the idea of online school choice forms and pushing the enrollment dates up a month to be more competitive with surrounding districts. The district has adopted that idea, and hopefully it helps retain more students that reside within CVUSD. What ideas, or plans, do you have in mind that will help to retain more students that live within CVUSD boundaries?
Moving the enrollment dates to coincide with other local districts was a great idea. Another critical need is to emphasize the positives of the individual neighborhood schools as well as the district as a whole. Our board has done us no favors in the last few years, as they very publicly battled local neighborhoods over school relocations, fought with each other over curriculum, and generally stole the spotlight from a strong history of award winning academic, social, and athletic programs in the CVUSD. Our current and former students are our best advertising. Their successes and achievements should be the things that make waves on social media, not the activities of a bunch of board members with no students in the schools, and who never attended our schools. As a TOHS graduate, with one daughter currently in the district, another who will be in next school year, and two step-children who attended the schools, I feel I am more in tune with CVUSD culture than the current board.
3. In correlation with question No. 2, it’s no secret that one of the large concerns weighing on the district is the trajectory of decline in student enrollment. In your opinion, what other issues have contributed to the decline and what specifically do you feel the district needs to be doing to address this issue? How will you respond if the decline leads to a closure of school sites?
I believe that an aging local population and stagnant housing growth are two contributors to the declining enrollment in local schools. The CVUSD board needs to support the city’s efforts to expand housing in the area that will attract younger residents and the future families that will feed into our schools. The fact that our neighborhoods are too expensive for our teachers to buy homes in is also a concern, when trying to attract and retain these talented professionals. We also need to become more aggressive in attracting out-of-district students to our schools by highlighting the advantages of a CVUSD education relative to neighboring districts. A precipitous decline that leads to school closures would be the result of extraordinarily poor execution of the ideas outlined in this question and the previous one. Anyone on the board that oversees that level of failure will likely not be handling any decisions regarding how to deal with the consequences thereof, as they would almost certainly be voted out.
4. As most of us know governing is difficult and bureaucracy is complicated. We have heard from some of you that you would consult the experts, which is responsible (and important), but what else would you do to go about educating yourself on an issue or policy you needed to know more about and what resources would you use to make fully informed decisions? Further, how would you go about informing the public and communicating your findings?
There is a wealth of information available to board members on the California School Boards Association website including a vast archive of research and policy briefs. There is the added benefit of having a number of universities locally with well-respected education and public policy and administration programs with professionals who can be consulted by a phone call or an email. In the internet age, we have the ability to interact with professionals, and their research to an unprecedented degree. When communicating with the public, I have always had a strong and active presence on social media and am easy to access. I am very comfortable with receiving input from community members on issues they are concerned about. However, with five members to the board I don’t think that we should all be declaring policy positions individually on social media. Especially if those opinions are about issues that could be perceived as contentious or divisive. In those instances, I believe that policy communication regarding the CVUSD should primarily be coming directly from the Board or the Superintendent’s office so that it can be seen as a coherent and unified.
5. The importance of how the district’s money is spent cannot be undermined. We are currently operating at a deficit and will feel the effects of this after surplus in the budget is depleted. What experience do you have with complicated budgets? When you are given a 300-plus page budget for the district to review, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?
Though I am currently a realtor, I worked in automotive service for two decades. In that time, I was in management for several years, and had to read and report on the fixed operations budget for the facility to ownership. Admittedly, the CVUSD budget is approaching $200 million dollars this fiscal year, far larger than what I was dealing with, but I can read a spreadsheet. I am also very aware of economic cycles and how they can impact public sector funding. Our current board has presided over a decade long economic expansion that by this summer will be the largest in most of our lifetimes. To see that we are currently operating in a deficit is concerning. When the current cycle ends, there will be a lot of questions about how to do in lean years what wasn’t being done in prosperous economic times. The biggest question about any budget priorities is whether or not the money is being used in ways that can positively impact the learning environment for our children.
6. During board member comments, we often hear about events and programs within the district that school board members have attended at school sites to get to better know our district, our students, and the programs and resources within. Will you be able to set aside time to be an active member in our district and community, outside of mandatory school board meetings? What have you done at this point in time to educate yourself on school-related activities and events?
One of the joys of being a real estate professional is that I have a greater flexibility in my schedule than most careers afford. This has allowed me to participate in programs like Reading is Fundamental at Conejo Elementary. I also have kept involved volunteering and participating in fundraisers for the CVNFL program my daughter attends. My most interesting scholastic visit this year was being there to witness the principal smooch a pig for a Weathersfield School fundraiser. I suspect there will be many more opportunities to attend unique and interesting events at the local schools.
7. We know there are inequities across schools within CVUSD. Generally, schools that have families who can donate more money have more. Starting innovative programming at some schools (like Acacia and Ladera) is one method for addressing this issue. Do you have other solutions?
Money is obviously a key ingredient in the success of any project, but it is not a panacea. One of the greatest resources in any school is the parents. Our PTAs need to be supported and encouraged. If enough parents can give a little time, great things can be accomplished, but it requires making sure we keep everyone engaged, and of course the cooperation of district staff. The spirit of volunteerism run very strong in our community, and I think that giving back to a community that gives us all so much is a great way to celebrate and bond with one another. I know that there are a lot of people who feel the same way, and I believe that what we can accomplish once we set a course can be amazing.
8. Earlier this year we were treated to a presentation by Walnut Elementary regarding its methods for addressing its achievement gap. What do you believe are some crucial initiatives that address and decrease achievement gap, and what more can the district be doing to support these?
The achievement gaps in our schools are often tied to socio-economic issues. To combat them, and make our schools a great place for all our students, we need to maintain a focus on important programs such as early childhood education. Keeping classroom sizes smaller and having a great teachers allows for making inroads as well. Increasing our focus on the mental health and providing an environment that focuses on developing the best time management, coping, and reasoning skill is also critical. Our students will perform the best when they are feeling their best and have the tools they need to perform at their peak. Once again, increasing parental engagement is also a critical element. When everyone knows what the expectations for success are, and can buy in to the plan for achievement, the path becomes a much easier one.
9. This is a district divided. How do you intend to bring unity back to a community who has seen the gap between parents and teachers grow wider and wider, due in large part to the way the board majority has mismanaged board meetings and framed policy conversation? How would you, as an individual board member, and in working with the board, assure parents that they’re being heard, while instilling confidence in our district’s teachers that they are not targets for far-leaning agendas?
Over the last decade, we have seen an increasing polarization in our nation as a whole. As information comes to us at an ever increasing rate, and becomes increasingly complicated and nuanced, it seems that the natural state of humans is to distill it into an item that is either acceptable or unacceptable to our worldview. The world is actually significantly more nuanced, and I believe the job of the board going forward is to embrace the spaces between the poles instead of running toward whichever position feels most ideologically comfortable. There are ways to make sure that everyone gets to feel their positions are heard and respected without the need to crush dissent, and defame those who disagree. There is a lot of work to be done, to rebuild the trust of our neighborhoods, parents, teachers, staff, and most importantly the confidence of the many students who are mature enough to see and understand the sometimes vicious battles the adults around them have engaged in. I am running because I believe the end goal of of our school district is to make sure the children who are enrolled and go through these schools are among the best prepared in the nation to go into adulthood with the greatest potential for success. Any decision I make as a board member would be with that primary concern in mind.
10. What important policies and issues have been overlooked or ignored this past year (whether it be because people were paying attention to larger issues, or they were never addressed) that you’d like to address and make the community aware of?
My biggest concern as a parent and resident of this community is the fact that this board has presided for the last ten years over a budget that has been funded by revenue generated under the longest economic expansion in history, and they are spending at a deficit this year. This level of growth is not infinitely sustainable, and thus we will encounter reduced levels of funding in the future. I am puzzled by how none of the board is concerned about looking beyond the current fiscal year, and how they can shrug off projections of future shortfalls. I am also concerned about the age of many of our facilities and what the anticipated service life remaining of our facilities and their infrastructure. As we saw with the recent A/C upgrade at TOHS repairing and replacing obsolete infrastructure can often be significantly more expensive than initially anticipated when buildings are half a century old. As a longtime resident of this community I am very concerned about making sure that we are setting the groundwork for the students of our district that are yet to be born.
DID YOU MAKE IT? Here's a picture of a palate cleanser before you hit the additional questions.
Candidates were asked to choose five additional questions from a list of questions submitted by the community. Here are the five that Nelson chose.
Due to a combination of recent events, including an increase in students being approached by strangers near campuses, and the response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, the topic of school safety has been more prevalent than ever. What is your opinion of the current safety measures in place at the schools in our district, and what, if anything, would you like to see done to improve safety?
School shootings are a tragic and terrifying reality in American culture. A lot has been made of the danger of modern weapons, lack of mental healthcare, and our social appetite for violence. In our community and neighboring cities there have also been a number of children harassed and approached going to and coming from school, or in public spaces. Other children have been harassed and groomed by strangers on social media. Our schools need to be a place where parents and children are educated about the warning signs of danger. I believe the district needs to take a leadership role in talking to our children about how to protect themselves, and identify threats. Active shooter drills, fences and walls, and armed police on our campuses are all wonderful deterrents, but the call to ensure the safety of children doesn’t stop at the campus. We must educate and equip the youth with the skill set to recognize the potential for harm, from strangers, from peers, and even potentially trusted authority figures. This will require frank, and age appropriate discussions about body autonomy for younger students. In our older students it will require discussions of bullying, harassment, and even consent within interpersonal relationships. Gun violence in our schools is a terrifying prospect, but there are numerous other more insidious and common threats to our children that must not be forgotten in the rush to build our schools into fortresses. We must educate our children so that they can avoid danger, and give them the tools to deal with the threats to their well-being, that they will be able to use throughout their lives.
We’ve been presented a series of LCAP presentations informing the community about the district’s effort to achieve these three goals:
Do you feel that the district has adequately met these goals? What would you like to see implemented to address these goals? Where do you feel there’s room for improvement?
As a whole, the district does an incredible job of meeting the high standards it sets for student engagement and performance. Test scores and student engagement in the academic opportunities available in our district are excellent .There is always room for improvement, and the rebirth of the SEDAC is addressing a lack of parent advocacy for one student group that needs greater attention. English learners are another portion of our community that is still lagging behind. As a child, I spent my elementary school years attending local German and Dutch schools while living in Europe, so I have first-hand experience in what it is like to be challenged academically in a language that is not spoken in your home. It would be wonderful to have parental engagement in helping find solutions to the challenges our English learners face as well, and I look forward to working toward that goal.
Board governance. What does board governance mean to you? How important of a role do you feel good governance plays in contributing to the success of the board to address community concerns, school policies and compromise between board members with dissenting opinions?
Good governance encompasses a combination of efficiency, accountability, transparency, and inclusion. It must be achieved by building consensus, through respectful and lawful communication to allow all concerned parties to feel included and have the ability to have input. In practice this means sourcing viable opinions to solve concerns that arise, and allowing for the ability to use those ideas in concert to create a path forward that everyone can live with. Building solutions on a board is not a matter of swaying people to your beliefs or ignoring input you disagree with. It is critical to find common ground between various ideas and create viable ways to see as many people as possible can be comfortable with progress.
What have you done to improve CVUSD students’ experience? In other words, what can you give back to kids in our district?
I have volunteered for reading with elementary students over the years in local schools, that also donates books to the students to keep at home. I have donated thousands of dollars directly to schools and school programs, including athletics, academics, and journalism. I also had the opportunity this year to be on the board of a high school essay contest that awarded cash prizes to local high school students. When the students come into contact with the adults in their community who show them that they are valued, I believe it goes a long way to shaping the adults those students become. I was once a student who benefited from these interactions. A speech contest I participated in led to sponsorship for me to attend Boys State in Sacramento when I was a high school student. It was there that I met lawmakers, and even the Governor at the time, George Deukmejian. It was an amazing learning experience, and a gift that I find myself trying to repay by helping the next generation.
The students in our district (and our country) are facing more social and emotional challenges than ever before. Please share how you plan to address this issue at both the elementary and secondary levels to support students in our district.
We find ourselves in an era of increasing openness about a host of cultural and historical issues that previous generations were unaware of, or chose to leave untouched. These unaddressed issues have been pouring out across our newsfeeds and into our social media as we watch women speak out on harassment as an element of their daily lives, black men who live in fear of ending up a victim of violent crime at the people trusted to protect us all, and children who have been victimized by the adults in whom they put their trust. I think that it is incumbent on our schools to give our children the tools to address these issues in their lives today, and to help be the generation that sees the end of victimizing people based of their sex, color, gender etc. We have to put into practice the tenet captured in the founding document of this nation, that we are all created equal. To put this into practice, we need to put into our educational system a way to include these lessons as part of our academic standards. We also need to emphasize helping our children learn coping, stress management, and time management skills, that are critical in preserving well-being in an increasingly complicated and demanding world.
THRIVE CONEJO (Thrive Conejo submitted two questions. I asked candidates to pick one to answer.)
If elected, what will you do to prioritize Special Education and hold the Executive Team accountable to closing the achievement gaps for the lowest performing student groups?
The fact that any student group is underperforming by academic measurement is a concern for our district. Special Education and English language learners are the two student groups that need the most attention in this area. I am heartened by the fact that there is an organized and vocal movement behind our Special Education students and look forward to how they will work with the district to affect positive change for all our students. The push for inclusive learning as a best practice appears to have tremendous merit, and I look forward to seeing how it can be applied in practice. English language learners are another challenge for our district, but the successes of Walnut Elementary with with education model gives me hope that we are learning how to best serve those students as well. I look forward to being a part of the team that builds this district into a model for how to create the best learning environment for our children.
A huge thank you to Nelson Buss for the time he spent in answering these questions.
If you would like to support not only his efforts here, but throughout his campaign, you can donate here: DONATE HERE.
Like what Nelson had to say? Make sure you share his platform with your neighbors, friends and family who are stakeholders in the district. There is no reason we should be uninformed this election. Let's all do our part to make sure that we know who we're voting for, and why!
MAKE SURE TO MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 10 A.M., TO INTERACT WITH NELSON ON THE ANONYMOUS MOMMY PAGE ABOUT HIS VISION!