First published in the Aug. 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Declining enrollment has been an issue for schools throughout all of California, and the Burbank Unified School District has not been immune to the problem.
There are nearly 1,000 fewer students on Burbank campuses in the 2022-23 academic year compared to the previous year, but there is one school in particular that has been affected more than others.
Luther Burbank Middle School employees, parents and students were vocal about their struggles during a Board of Education meeting Thursday and expressed their concerns and disappointment to district officials regarding cuts to staff and programs.
“Due to inequity of certain district policies and enrollment decline, we feel that the district has not protected the educational institute of Luther,” Dawn Barnes, the faculty chair of Luther Burbank, said to the board. “Across the district, the middle schools have more than 200 students over projected numbers. Luther did not benefit from these numbers.”
Barnes, who had nearly a dozen colleagues at the meeting to support her, said that disparity of student enrollment between the three middle schools has led to certain inequities among students and staff.
According to the BUSD website, Luther has a student body total of 864 while John Muir and Dolores Huerta middle schools boast 1,490 and 988, respectively.
Luther has seen reductions in physical education, special education and administration the past few years, as well cuts to its beloved arts program. The school received the California Exemplary Arts Award in 2021.
“We never should have lost a program at our school,” Barnes said “This is a reactive approach, which is irresponsible of the district to allow this inequity to have occurred at Luther or any school in the Burbank Unified School District.
“We want a plan of action, not just one that will get us through the year. A plan which will provide [solutions] to eliminate these inequities. We need a one-year plan, three-year plan, five-year plan in order to be proactive and support the educational excellence of Luther Burbank Middle School.”
Addison Loffredo, a 7th grader at Luther, said that the loss of an art teacher affected her schedule for the year and was forced to choose an elective that did not interest her nearly as much as art.
“How is it fair that my friends at [Dolores Huerta] and Muir [middle schools] still have art?” Loffredo asked the board. “It makes us feel like you don’t treat all your students in this district fairly and some schools are better than others in your eyes.”
Jackson Burrows, a 6th grader at the school, also went up to the podium and urged the district and board members to cooperate more with local companies to help fund art programs.
“We need to ensure that art is never thought of as an extra which we can cut,” Burrows said. “We need to showcase Burbank’s talent and make others who work here want to send their kids to school here as well. That will stop the lower enrollment problem; that will increase school funding [and] give us more options, not less.”
Superintendent Matt Hill commended the speakers, especially the students, for speaking on the matter and assured them that he and his cabinet will work with Luther staff to find a solution.
“We have hit a place where [at] Luther we have to stabilize the declining enrollment,” he said. “We’ve had ideas in the past, we’ve had different things we tried in the past, [and] it’s clear it hasn’t worked. I hear you loud and clear tonight; I heard it this week. The trust is broken, and we have to regain that.”
Hill stated that trust can only be earned through action, and the first one is to meet monthly with Luther administration and teachers to establish a plan that may help steady the school’s enrollment. He hopes to talk about the issue further as an agenda item at a board meeting before the end of the semester.
The board was apologetic to the students and faculty at the meeting and took responsibility for the mistrust between the school and BUSD.
“This is only happening to one school right now, and why? … I’ll be asking a lot of questions because I already let one kid down,” Board Vice President Steve Ferguson said.
President Charlene Tabet said that she owed an apology to the entire Luther community and assured them that she and her colleagues are “going to work through this as best we can.”