BUSD: Deep Budget Cuts Call for Parent, Political Advocacy

Photo courtesy Ryan Hirsch

The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education issued a call for activism to its community members after revealing financial cuts totaling more than $13 million to local schools with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current state budget proposal.
“We are going to be facing a substantial reduction and need to be realistic about that right now and make sure our parents and constituents understand that,” said board Vice President Steve Frintner.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Debbie Kutka and Director of Fiscal Services Alyssa Low presented to the board how the revisions to the state budget would essentially gut local districts, estimating a total $13.65 million in less LCFF funding for Burbank schools.
“As we start highlighting a menu of options for reductions, it is going to be shocking,” Superintendent Matt Hill said on Tuesday. “We’ve been looking through this. We’re talking about a lot of deep cuts that will completely transform this district in a negative way. That’s why we’re getting the information out there.
“We can’t just say OK, we’ll make $13 million in cuts and be OK. It’s just not feasible and then try to operate under the guidelines of a new pandemic.”
The newest estimated reduction follows the $3.8 million worth of cuts after Measure I did not pass in March. The parcel tax proposal would have generated more than $9 million for BUSD annually for 12 years.
“Look at every company and every industry in the world now, how much they’re investing [in sanitizing],” said Hill. “We have to make those investments and then cut because of a recession.”
One of the cuts made by the district this past year was to “tech crew,” a technical stage production program, which was a decision lamented by a student during the public comments.
“I have always been interested in engineering and tech crew really helped me find what I want to do when I grow up,” he wrote to the board. “I have experienced some of the happiest moments of my life in tech crew, and taking those experiences away from other children is simply unfair.”
Hill responded that students have access to tech crew courses in the fall through a partnership with other schools. That elimination saved the district about $90,000; however, the current deficit is going be “about 100 times that large.”
“I’ve been going through a panic and grief process with my staff looking at the numbers, and I know the community hasn’t seen that and gone through that process,” he added. “So I anticipate a lot of comments next week, but I just want to use this opportunity to talk to the community in saying it’s going to be a panic and there’s going to be anger and [people saying] ‘Don’t cut that.’ We need to understand the magnitude of it and work through with creative solutions and advocacy. That’s the only way through this.”
The board also joined a coalition, which includes school districts from Glendale, South Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena, in an effort to reach out to local politicians about the budget cuts to education.
“Coming in as a coalition is very strong when you hear it from five different school districts,” said district Clerk Charlene Tabet. “Regardless of how much concentration of grant money that they get, we’re all still in an ugly budget crisis. I think standing together and coming in strong to these people who lead us and are put into office by all of our communities need to hear that.
“This is a rough time but it’s going to decimate schools if we don’t do something. That is not OK to decimate our school districts.”
Board President Armond Aghakhanian said he’s appreciated all the feedback from parents over various issues recently and he hopes they continue to voice their concerns to local politicians because Burbank has unique issues to address.
“La Cañada’s problems are not the same as Burbank or Glendale,” he said. “It’s different. We need to do both. We need to do the coalition but also need to sit down, look at them in the eyes and say, we also have specific needs.”
The board will be meeting on a weekly basis over the next month to continue discussions about the budget, which needs to be adopted by June 18.
State legislature must submit a budget by June 15. The most recent revision is a proposed $203.3 billion budget with a $54.3 billion deficit due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic shutdown.
“I think the mindset when we’re approaching this budget, unfortunately, also has to be, ‘What can we anticipate with cuts in the next two years?’” board member Ferguson recommended. “How will we structure? How will we support instruction and staff at the school site level? We’re going to have to get creative on many levels.”

One creative way to help reduce cuts to programs and services provided by the school is through fundraising, and the board discussed the framework presented by Hill regarding priorities and, most importantly, an oversight committee.
The proposal included a committee that would meet monthly and include 12 members. The Burbank Teachers Association, California School Employees Association, Parent Teachers Association and the Foundation would each have two members. Two administrators — one from the elementary level and one secondary — would also have spots on the committee, as well as two Ex-Officio Board of Education members.
“Clearly fundraising isn’t going to get us out of a $13 million hole, but it’s important for us to know what schools and the community can and can’t fundraise for right now,” Hill said.
Board members agreed on most of the proposed framework for the committee, however, Member Steve Ferguson addressed concern over the slots for two administrators by mentioning that each school has different biases and needs, which can make someone impartial.
“I do think there needs to be rules,” Ferguson said. “If they’re going to be selected, maybe rotate off every year and a new person rotates in. That to me precludes any one person from holding influence over potentially other administrators.”
The remaining BOE agreed to Ferguson’s proposal, as well as Member Dr. Roberta Reynolds’s suggestion of having the meetings be open to the public to promote transparency.
One major program that relies on fundraising is field trips, but Reynolds, who works in the medical field, said it’s best to table them until the following year.
“I think we can make a short-term definitive decision that we don’t see this happening any time before the end of this year and possibly into the next,” she added. “I think it’s important not to allow for fundraising because that just creates a whole lot of animosity when the decision finally has to come down and it can’t be done that way.”
A fundraising committee is expected to be finalized by the end of June.

In his weekly address, Hill notified the community of a survey to collect feedback regarding its experience from the online spring semester.
“We will use this information and the guidelines from the state, county and health officials to design different learning models for the fall. We will continue to solicit feedback and will send you information over the next several weeks.”
Following the closure of campuses in March because of the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, the board made the controversial decision of giving its students Credit/No Credit in the spring.
The issue was brought up again by a parent during the public comments on Tuesday, updating the board on the online petition asking to reconsider its grading policy and to make it similar to the South Pasadena School District, which allowed students to choose a grade or Credit/No Credit. The petition has been signed by more than 1,000 people.
“Why did the board at the last meeting mention Credit/No Credit was the most equitable way forward? … Giving students a choice and allow them to grade up and grade down is clearly the most equitable. That is why so many districts have chosen it,” one parent wrote.
Reynolds acknowledged the parent’s advocacy, saying it was a struggle to come to that decision, but the difficult decision was made in accordance to the policy and the law. She added that the board took into consideration all different situations with children, some of whom have challenging situations at home.
“It’s a struggle because it’s really a no-win situation,” said Reynolds. “I think there are a lot of perspectives on this and we’ve heard a number of perspectives from a number of different parents who did not want to come on camera but they feel with their child it was a more equitable situation.”
Meanwhile, as to what policies will be implemented in the fall, Hill said they remain uncertain, but will take into account the data collected from the surveys.
“We partnered teachers, educators and sports staff and continue to meet,” he said. “We want feedback from parents, community members and students about what worked, what didn’t work. We’re going to be forming a committee to take all that feedback, and we’re going design a new program for the fall. That new program will likely include grades. We know we’re going to have a longer term program.
“Specifically, we cannot give you an answer tonight because the state has not released guidelines, health guidelines or instructional guidelines, for the fall. But that is our intent, to have a robust learning environment. Some of it will be online, some of it will be transitional … and some of it will be hybrid. But we’re going to work with our teachers, parents, students, educators, board, all together, the whole community, to design this model this summer and roll it out.”