First published in the June 18 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
With the new fiscal year approaching, Burbank Unified School District officials presented their state-mandated Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, detailing the district’s goals, plans, actions and expenditures aimed at helping students to the school board during a meeting Thursday.
The document is a way for districts across the state to address their needs to the state legislature in the budgeting process.
BUSD’s LCAP was mostly similar to plans from previous years. However, there were eight newly budgeted items for the 2022-23 fiscal year and six of them addressed the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, initiative.
District staff members included in their budgeting a plan to hire a DEI consultant, provide professional development to teachers and administrators, purchase supplemental materials that promote diversity and employ a DEI mental health consultant. BUSD also plans to pay stipends to employees who take initiative and lead the district’s DEI efforts at their respective sites and collaborate with colleagues and students.
Superintendent Matt Hill said he envisioned the DEI consultant would work with district staff in coordinating professional development that would be provided by Facing History and Ourselves, a global nonprofit that gives educators the tools to appropriately address the issues of racism and discrimination in the classroom. The consultant would also work with John Paramo, BUSD assistant superintendent of educational services, in responding to any incidents pertaining to DEI at school sites and ensuring policies and procedures are in place to deal with such issues.
While school board members were supportive of including DEI in the LCAP, board member Emily Weisberg worried about the lack of clarity in the district’s plan.
“I am a little concerned with a couple of those items sounding more like a coordinator position, and my feeling is that it is unbelievably important that, at this point, we’re empowering our teacher leaders to address the specific needs of their campuses,” she said. “One person can’t do all 21 sites. One person can’t address all [issues surrounding DEI].”
The district hired Stefani McCoy as a consultant to spearhead its DEI initiative last October and recently presented findings from a survey she conducted with Burbank students, parents and staff. McCoy’s contract with the district ends at the end of this month.
With some dissatisfaction, Weisberg said she believes the district has not progressed in its DEI efforts and that much work needs to be done.
Board member Steve Ferguson agreed with his colleague’s opinion and was underwhelmed with McCoy’s findings.
“I have definitely seen a lot of community-based work [from McCoy],” Ferguson said. “I definitely see our coordinator has done a lot of work, but when I see surveys come back with only 400 responses, I begin to question if our approach is correct.”
Paramo vouched for McCoy’s work with students and teachers, complimenting her response to a growing number of incidents of “hate speech” at school sites.
“It became very clear this year in the spring that we had reached a point where there were so many instances of hate speech related to racism and homophobia, and our school sites were at capacity in terms of how you deal with that,” Paramo said. “It became obvious we needed to do something.
“Stefani and I began doing these restorative meetings,” Paramo said. “What’s clear to me is that we had some pretty powerful results with that. What’s also clear to me is that I can’t sustain that for the number of schools we have and the number of incidents that occur. So, for me, [we need] boots on the ground, we need to educate our staff and our school sites to be able to do this process because we can’t service the volume right now.”
According to Paramo, John Burroughs High School teachers were provided with professional development and responded well to it. He said he was “shocked” to see that about 85% of staff felt the training was beneficial.
Weisberg agreed with district staff that professional development is essential to the DEI process and reiterated she is not opposed to hiring consultants as long as they work to empower employees at each site.
“When we’re thinking about budgetary concerns, I just really want to make sure that the money is going toward a sustainable model that focuses on our teacher leaders and strengthening those individual needs at each school site,” Weisberg said.
A concern for Ferguson in having only one individual coordinating the DEI initiative, along with BUSD staff, is that would not be proactive in helping the district mitigate issues of racism and discrimination. He suggested that the district look into hiring a group or agency that would cast a wider net when it comes to helping students.
“I don’t want to use coordinators like fire extinguishers to put out fires as they occur,” he said. “That, to me, is a reactive strategy. What I want to do is invest in professional development and not house it under individuals — and I’m talking about the DEI consultant money that’s here and the mental health consultant.
“I would like to see us contract with agencies who can deploy multiple teams, who understand frankly when you have an LGBTQ situation and who also have the resourcing to send folks if you have a situation with the Armenian American community,” Ferguson added. “And one person does not possess all the skill sets to relate to all those communities in my experience.”
After hearing comments from concerned board members, Hill provided them with more clarity about the consultant’s role and assured the board that the position was not intended to oversee DEI at all sites but rather to work with Sharon Cuseo, BUSD assistant superintendent of instructional services, in helping with development and finding DEI leaders at each school site.
“We are building the capacity at each school site. We need help from the district office level to be able to build that capacity,” he said. “As we have these leads identified and Facing History has helped them, we need to go deeper and build that skill set. As each school site’s doing that journey, they’re having challenges. What we hear from the principals is that we need support and we need help as we build our DEI teams. That’s the development we’re talking about.”
The LCAP presentation was a first-read item and is on the agenda again as a second-read item during a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 21.