First published in the Aug. 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
With a record $308 billion state budget signed June 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to invest more than ever in education, and Burbank Unified School District’s updated budget indicates that he delivered.
Debbie Kukta, assistant superintendent of administrative services, went before the Board of Education Aug. 4 and presented a revision to the budget that includes more than $31 million in revenue increases.
“It’s great to see the governor and our elected officials making a focus on education,” Superintendent Matt Hill told the Leader Thursday. “With the actions the board and I have been doing with our labor partners over the last couple of years to stabilize us fiscally, we’re now able to really look at what investments we could make.”
District staff have reached out to county and state officials to determine what restrictions, if any, are associated with some of the different funds received.
Hill assured the board that he and his cabinet are working to provide a more detailed guideline for the funds received and will provide that information at a later date.
BUSD previously adopted a budget in June that projected deficit spending over the next three fiscal years. The district had a fund balance healthy enough to operate at a loss of nearly $12 million in 2022-23, but there was concern about the continued deficit spending projected over the next two years.
The additional funds, nearly 60% of which is for one-time investments, give the district more flexibility financially, but Hill said that he and his staff must be smart with their spending.
“This is exciting, but the caveat is that a lot of it is one-time funding,” Hill said. “So, we want to make sure that we’re showing good results with the one-time funding so that the Legislature can keep it going.”
With many economists predicting a recession in the future, California’s budget provided districts more one-time funding rather than committing to ongoing, unrestricted money that would allow districts to spend on core programs and services.
The district did gain more from the local control funding formula, which determines how educational agencies are funded, due to a significant change in the cost-of-living-adjustment, or COLA. The district prepared its budget expecting a 6.56% COLA, but the final state budget nearly doubled it to 12.84%.
Educational funding is based on average daily attendance, or ADA, but many districts, including Burbank Unified, across the state have seen a decline in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. BUSD saw some relief in the issue with the state giving districts that offered independent study last year — which Burbank did — one-year ADA mitigation to shield them from the declining enrollments.
With the increased COLA and ADA, the district received $6.7 million through the LCFF.
A large chunk of the one-time funds BUSD received were through the state’s Learning Recovery Emergency Block Grant that is aimed at assisting school districts as they continue to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Kukta reported that Burbank received $11.7 million from the state, and the district expects to spend the restricted money on educational interventions, summer school, mental health resources and social-emotional learning.
BUSD also received $8.84 million through the Art, Music and Instructional Materials Discretionary Block Grant.
“That [word] discretionary is key because it seems to us in the questions that we’ve asked that we can pretty much spend it on anything,” Kukta said. “They did name it art and music, so of course that’s going to be some of the implication that we put some of the money into those programs.”
Burbank Unified also received $4.6 million that can go toward after-school and summer school enrichment programs for children in transitional kindergarten through 6th grade.
Special education funding also received a bump with an additional $1.36 million in the revised budget, but Kukta warned that this ongoing funding is likely to decrease next year resulting from declining attendance.
Though the news from Kukta was positive, school board members were cautiously optimistic and wanted to ensure the money will be well spent in areas of most need. Board member Emily Weisberg and Steve Ferguson suggested that district staff work with the budget committee and communicate with stakeholders to discuss a plan, and so district staff will finalize the details of the funds and any restrictions tied to them in budget discussions at a future meeting.