Despite hearing calls for change from some stakeholders, the Burbank Unified school board ultimately remained committed to Superintendent Matt Hill and elected to extend his contract for an additional two years.
The Board of Education voted 3-2 on Thursday to keep Hill signed on through 2025 and gave him a 5% raise retroactive to July 1, 2021. Hill was hired as superintendent in 2015.
“I’m really excited to be able to continue the work and serve the community of Burbank,” Hill told the Leader Friday. “I’ve been here for seven years now, and it is a great district. I understand there are areas we must improve on, and I look forward to working with everyone on those challenges.”
Hill’s base salary increased to $260,642, and while some community members have noted it is more than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s salary, the figure is below that of his peers in neighboring districts. Vivian Ekchian of Glendale Unified signed a contract in 2019 that gave her a base salary surpassing $300,000 per year and Wendy Sinnette of La Cañada currently earns $274,794 annually.
The two dissenting votes came from Board members Steve Ferguson and Emily Weisberg, who suggested that the decision be postponed until Hill’s contract expired — which would have been July 1, 2023 — to better evaluate the superintendent.
“I find it very difficult to say to someone your work has not been up to par when I feel like we’ve not provided … the opportunity to have forthright conversations about where the issues are and then provide opportunity to address those issues,” Weisberg said.
In response to Weisberg’s comments, board member Steve Frintner said that the board does not usually wait until a contract expires before negotiating an extension and postponing an extension could affect Hill’s performance. He added that with two school board seats up for grabs later this year, the possibility of having two new board members assessing Hill’s work despite having worked with him for about six months is not fair.
“If we weren’t to renew it, we would then have to find a new superintendent,” Frintner said. “And we would wind up July 1 next year with possibly no leadership of the district. … If there is confidence in his ability and leadership, then that is something we can vote on now.”
Some members of the Burbank Teachers Association asked the board to hold Hill accountable for the district’s financial woes and recent turnover of administrators and teachers.
“We need a district where veteran teachers are not retiring early,” Nicole Drabecki, vice president of the BTA, told the board. “We need a district where teachers and principals don’t want to leave here.
“Change is not easy, but if you had more leadership, more courage, you would see that giving a 5% raise and contract extension to Dr. Hill until 2025 was the wrong choice.”
Darla Gerhart, a special education teacher, said that rather than giving Hill a raise, the district should consider giving classified and certificated employees better wages as the cost of living continues to skyrocket not only in Burbank, but the entire state.
“We must consider something more critical to the well-being of our district, staff and students before this is done,” Gerhart said. “These positions are essential and greatly impact the education of our students, which is why we are here.”
As he usually has done, Hill took the comments from teachers and board members in stride and told the Leader that his door is always open for anyone to discuss any issue they may have.
“I know that people have some concerns, and I always want to hear that feedback,” he said. “Anytime a teacher wants to talk to me or wants me to visit their classroom, I’m there and always looking forward to the invitation.”
The voices championing the superintendent came from parents, especially those who have been involved with the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. Carmenita Helligar commended Hill for putting students first and maintaining a vision when it comes to DEI, and Nadra Ostrom, who is on the district’s DEI committee, shared that sentiment.
“Dr. Hill has taken a lot of heat for the work around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ostrom said. “It’s not easy work, and we’re at a point I think where it’s almost like a tipping point where some nitty-gritty stuff is going to happen. I can definitely look back and see progress from where we started this work two years ago, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“There’s so much going on right now,” she added. “I know there’s a lot of turnover, and I don’t think this is the right time to turn over the head of our district.”