Carden Conejo, a self-described “independent, non-sectarian school serving students from Pre-school through 5th grade” with an emphasis on “instilling the importance of manners and morals, providing a rigorous academic curriculum, and hand-picking a staff that knows each child by name,” is facing the termination of its lease for an eight-acre property at 975 Evenstar owned by the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD).
“If the district doesn’t live up to its word, it will kill this school.”— Carden supporter
As a result, parents, board members and staff are speaking out at school board meetings and to local media about what they feel has been unjust treatment by CVUSD leaders.
“We’ve been a longstanding tenant and never wanted to terminate our lease,” says one parent. “We have dealt in good faith, and the school district has dealt in bad faith, stringing Cardin along with [the] understanding that the lease would wrap up after the  election. At that point, they inserted the poison pill provisions.”
The provisions, which surprised Carden leaders, include a “termination upon sale” clause that could force the school to leave its campus in the middle of a school year if the property is sold.
“Who would sign a lease like that? It’s ridiculous,” says a parent experienced in leasing buildings. “It’s not a common provision in any lease I’ve dealt with in commercial real estate for 18 years.”
Carden supporters also say their school agreed to pay CVUSD the first year of rent ($270,000) in full up front, plus a security deposit of $50,000, and pay for all building maintenance in year two, which they claim is very uncommon.
“You’re getting my attention, but likely not for the reasons you intended.”— Lauren Gill
Carden, a school of around 160 students, has occupied this site for 35 years. It faced a similar situation in 2015 when CVUSD expressed interest in using the property for other purposes, but pushback and publicity apparently led the district to extend the lease with Carden.
Now, parents, children and teachers are showing up to CVUSD meetings to advocate for their school. Lisa Macias-Flavin, a teacher at Carden Conejo, said, “What we do and what you do as well is help children to become respectful and competent adults. … The board voted to terminate the lease with inaccurate information provided by the district.”
Bill Rincor, a resident whose family moved from Calabasas to the neighborhood so their children could attend Carden, added, “Why would you not want Carden to continue at Evenstar? We’re speculating, but we’d like to hear it from you. We’d like to continue in our negotiations.”
Kevin Doohan, parent of a first-grader and board secretary on the nonprofit board that will operate the school when the present owners retire, told the Guardian, “I believe Cardin has not been treated in good faith. We negotiated for the better part of last year, and then they inserted this clause that says lease terminated upon sale.”
He says CVUSD is “obfuscating their intent for the property while making unreasonable demands of the Carden nonprofit board.”
“They should tell the community what their intent is,” he believes. “What is the plan for the campus? Because the community deserves to know. … If the district doesn’t live up to its word, it will kill this school, which has been an institution in this community for 50 years.”
Public reaction from CVUSD board members like Lauren Gill has been pointed and unsympathetic. Following public comments at a recent meeting, Gill addressed the Carden group.
“We have multiple tenants,” Gill said. “We oversee negotiations of lease agreements. It’s my expectations that those will not take away time from the core business that we’re involved in here. Those negotiations will not drag out for months on end. And that they will not cost tens of thousands of attorney fees because those resources belong to the children of Conejo Valley Unified. So, you have taken a great deal of our time, and when you come to meetings and say inflammatory things, which you’re entitled to do, you have First Amendment rights, but I will advise that the only currency that matters in this room is the truth. So when you tell us that you’re going to make life difficult, you’re getting my attention, but likely not for the reasons you intended.”
The present lease expires in June 2025. Supporters say the uncertainty is harming enrollment. Some believe the district considers Carden a competition for students, while Carden’s parents insist that most of their students come from Los Angeles County.
As Doohan said in the November school board meeting, “Superintendent McLaughlin has informed us, ‘the district cannot accommodate the proposed changes as outlined in your email, and our attorney’s language stands firm.’ So here we are. And here we will be through either July 2025 or whenever you come to your senses. Mr. Linn was right last week. You’re better than this. We have more in common than not. We all care deeply about early education. Please reconsider your position.”