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Ventura County Perspective

This Board's Bottom Line Isn't About the Bucks

Free exercise of 1st Amendment rights proves a daunting prospect.

March 08, 1998|BEVERLY KELLEY | Beverly Kelley is the founding president of ETC, Educational Television for the Conejo. She hosts "Local Talk with Beverly Kelley" on KCLU and is currently on sabbatical as chair of the communication arts department at Cal Lutheran University

Have you heard that prospective contestants on "Let's Make a Deal" are buying up bootlegged tapes of Thousand Oaks City Council meetings? Folks seeking a "come on down" invite are finding a veritable treasure trove of costuming ideas generated by our rabid-to-the-max practitioners of grass-roots democracy.

OK, I might have taken certain liberties with the details, but I see you regular Tuesday night government channel watchers nodding your noggins in affirmation.

The prospect of viewing Conejo Valley Unified School District board meetings on the educational channel is back in the news. Last week parent activist Cheryl Heitmann, armed with endorsements from the American Assn. of University Women, PTA Council, District Advisory Council and mucho moral support from teachers and classified employees, persuaded the trustees to take yet another look at the topic of television. Supt. Jerry Gross has been directed to prepare a report outlining various broadcasting scenarios for Tuesday's meeting.

Since school board meetings are the staple of community access programming across the county, what's the story with Conejo Valley Unified? Does anyone still believe it's the bucks? Sure, the cost of fitting out the boardroom for live broadcast soars into the six-figure range. Equally pricey is the deal extended by the city of Thousand Oaks. Media Services manager Shirley Cobb maintains that expenses alone for a broadcast-ready meeting room at the Civic Arts Plaza plus crew would total an inconceivable $900 per shoot.

But it isn't the cost that has kept our potentially telegenic trustees from preparing for their close-ups, Mr. DeMille. Councilwoman Judy Lazar finds the school board's collective foot-dragging perfectly understandable; she has no trouble relating to their anxiety at being paid a visit by individuals "who utilize television to express a personal agenda." Too often clicking the remote to Channel 10 on a Tuesday evening reveals the rationally challenged freely exercising their 1st Amendment rights. In living color.

If the board wishes to consider taping for later broadcast, concerned parent Susan Duckett has volunteered to operate public access gear, provided free of charge from TCI Cable. Although Duckett's offer is sincerely appreciated, inviting high school students to run the cameras would maximize the educational benefit.

None of the Conejo Unified schools owns broadcast-quality equipment. However, they could take advantage of TCI cameras or invest less than $10,000 in the S-VHS format to enable students in the TV production class at Westlake High School or members of the newly constituted video club at Thousand Oaks High School to learn what in Ventura County could become the "family business" (since thousands of entertainment industry workers raise families here). To preview the capabilities of our future media moguls, take a peek at "Lancer Life," which debuted last week on Channel 21. The news magazine show is the brainchild of Nancy Schroeder, a former CNN reporter and KEYT anchor.

Board President Delores Didio points out that although Conejo Valley citizenry turned out in force for such prickly issues as Lang Ranch Elementary or the adult school situation, it's a shame that the monthly showcasing of area schools and recognition of students excelling in sports, academics and extracurricular activities don't play to a broader audience.

Further, even if print media could compete with the cachet of appearing on the tube, newspaper reporters are too often conspicuously absent at board meetings.

Changing their meeting date to Tuesday was a smooth move for the school board. Now creatively costumed critics are forced to choose between pestering City Council members or school trustees, except for that distinguished council commentator who appeared attired as a couch potato. Our pseudo-spud is still trying to figure out what's behind door No. 2.

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