HomeCity NewsBoard OKs Budget Amid Economic Concerns

Board OKs Budget Amid Economic Concerns

First published in the June 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Burbank Unified Board of Education unanimously approved adoption of the school district’s proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but officials expressed concern over deficit spending and funding from the state over the next three years.
Debbie Kukta, BUSD assistant superintendent of administrative services, presented the proposed budget detailing the district’s finances through 2024 at a meeting June 16 and the board approved it during a special meeting Tuesday.
The district anticipates more revenue from the state via the local control funding formula — a budget formula approved by voters in 2013 that calculates a base grant for each student — of $153,674,072, which is about $8.6 million more than the previous fiscal year.
In total, BUSD expects a little more than $183 million in revenue but will be spending at a deficit of nearly $12 million. The district also faces deficits of $3.9 million in 2023-24 and $5.6 million in 2024-25.
Kukta assured the board and community members that district officials anticipated such a deficit and minimized the spending of COVID-19 relief funds — more than $52 million — from the state and federal government to maintain a “healthy fund balance” over the next three years.
“That is a lot of the expenditures where we booked the revenues last year, so this was planned,” Kukta said on June 16. “So, if you look at the future two years we still have that structural deficit. But this year’s deficit, it’s a reflection of the COVID monies being spent down.
“I think that the admin team has done a really good job using that to save general fund dollars and to continue to provide support for our students, keeping class sizes small, for health and facilities needs,” she added. “We’ve done a good job, I think, of leveraging that money.”
However, there is concern that the extra funds will diminish quickly due to inflation, little relief from the state when it comes to coverage of pensions and future wage increases.
“Some of the challenges that we’re looking at going forward is the economy is facing significant headwinds, and we’re really entering some turbulent times,” Kukta said. “The [U.S. Federal Reserve] increased interest rates 75 basis points, or three-quarters of a percent, which in all my years as treasurer, 25 basis points was typical and that made big news. So, this was an extreme move on them and more reactive. I think they let inflation get out of hand and we aren’t monitoring it.”
Another issue for BUSD and districts throughout the state is declining enrollment and average daily attendance, which impacts funding. This projected enrollment of 14,119 for 2022-23 is 88 fewer than the previous academic year, and BUSD has permitted more interdistrict permits than it has in the last three years.
According to Kukta, schools haven’t fully recovered from the coronavirus pandemic and attendance continues to trend downward because of quarantine, illness and independent study.
Some glimmer of hope in addressing such issues was sparked by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision to California’s budget, which proposed more than $128 billion in funding for public education and gives districts about $22,850 per student — the highest per-pupil funding in the state’s history.
“The May revise demonstrates that the governor heard the call of the education community, that we needed more funding to help us with this decline of enrollment,” Kukta said.
Board member Steve Ferguson asked that staff continue to monitor not only the state’s financial situation but also the district’s spending, fearing that the multi-million-dollar structural deficit could “balloon overnight to a double-digit million-dollar problem when your budget is just short of $200 million.”
“We’re talking about massive, massive reductions that could be a shock to the system if we don’t plan,” Ferguson said.

Parents Concerned Over Future of DEI Consultant
BUSD parents voiced their support for consultant Stefani McCoy Tuesday after listening to board members express doubt about the work surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion.
District staff unveiled its local control and accountability plan, which details goals, plans, actions and expenditures aimed at helping students, last week and it included more than $307,000 dedicated to BUSD’s DEI initiative.
Part of the funds will be used to hire a consultant to assist in providing professional development to teachers and administrators, but the district has not specified if McCoy will continue to lead that effort. McCoy was hired by the district last October to spearhead Burbank’s DEI initiative and her contract expires at the end of the month.
A few of the board members previously expressed concern in the lack of progress regarding DEI, and parents attended the special meeting held June 21 to express their disappointment in some of the board’s comments.
“I really didn’t think Mr. Ferguson and Dr. [Emily] Weisberg would be the ones pushing back so far,” said Nadra Ostrom, a BUSD parent who is also part of the DEI committee. “It’s not the oppression olympics. Everybody should and will have their needs met if we stay the course. Let’s not pit our children against each other. We’re all allies here.
“Ms. McCoy did not create these problems. She’s helped our students, and they need help now. She’s helped the vulnerable feel protected and loved, and she could do more of that. I hope the board and district takes this into consideration when you’re allocating funds. She needs support. She could still help the schools.”
Superintendent Matt Hill reminded stakeholders that the district used one-time COVID-19 relief funds for a one-year consulting position and assured them that the district plans to use the $307,788 budgeted for DEI toward “deepening the work.”
“When we started this work, we talked about it as a long process, and it will take a lot of effort,” Hill said. “It’s going to take resources and dedicated resources to do that. We wanted to analyze where we are, we wanted to see where we can grow, and we want to find out how to make this systemic.”
To achieve its DEI goals, Hill said the district must focus on professional development to create leaders at each site that can address the specific needs of their respective schools. He envisions each campus having DEI response teams that would be able to help district staff handle incidents involving racism or discrimination.
John Paramo, BUSD assistant superintendent of educational services, previously stated that incidents of hate speech increased as the year progressed, and McCoy was essential in helping him address the issues.
“We need to make sure that we have support for Dr. Paramo, as well as we’re building those school site teams — these diversity, equity and inclusion response teams is what we’re starting to call them,” Hill said. “When we have an incident, we have Dr. Paramo, we have the consultant that can go with us to go help [response teams] so that when that happens again, they have the skillset and competency, and that’s why we’re proposing to continue that work.”
Weisberg defended the comments she had made, noting she felt the district had not progressed in its DEI efforts and said it wasn’t meant to take away from McCoy’s work.
“So when I talk about us being in the same place, that’s not meant to disparage anybody who’s been doing the work but rather call ourselves to task,” Weisberg said. “What do we need to be doing differently, better, more deeply than we have been before? That’s not a knock against Ms. McCoy; that’s a knock against us.
“We’re not trying to get rid of anyone,” she added. “We’re trying to deepen, support and make this work more meaningful moving forward.”
Board member Steve Frintner attempted to allay the concerns of the parents at the meeting by assuring them the board is committed to DEI.
“It will be difficult, and it will be a long process,” Frintner said. “When you’re going through a major change, nothing ever happens that quickly. We need to continue working and continue moving forward. And I do believe that’s where we will go as a district.”

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