City Hall hosted hundreds of Burbank teachers and other school district staff, who picketed ahead of a Burbank Unified School District school board meeting on Thursday to protest contract negotiations that have dragged on since September.
Teachers are asking for a sweeping 9% raise, but the district says it cannot implement more than a 5% increase without cutting programs. “Hold the line at nine,” teachers chanted throughout the evening.
“The district needs to reorder its priorities and begin to invest in the teachers Burbank students deserve,” said Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta. “BUSD received an 11.2% increase in funding this year; they’re offering their teachers less than half of that percentage.”
Abasta told the Leader that BTA has sat down with the district for 10 bargaining sessions so far since September, but progress has halted.
Teachers argued that similar districts like Ventura County and Santa Clarita were able to give teachers 10% raises or more in three-year contract negotiations. Glendale teachers recently reached a tentative agreement for 13% pay increases over 3 years. Abasta said that BUSD is “lagging behind many other area school districts and making it difficult to attract and retain quality educators.”
Abasta pointed to Ventura Unified as an example of a district that was able to match its raises with its increase in funding.
“BTA is only asking for a fair increase that will help keep pace with inflation and begin to make the district more competitive with its neighbors so it can reverse the staff exodus that plagued BUSD in recent years,” Abasta said.
As a point of comparison, current district salary schedules list first-year Burbank teachers being paid $54,786 yearly, while their Glendale counterparts make $58,147.
BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill told the Leader that the district will continue to work with the BTA to reach the largest compensation increase that the district can afford. “Our current proposal of 5% brings our reserve down to that 3% minimum without cuts to programs, services or increases to class size,” he said.
Hill said that the 11.3% budget increase must also be used to cover the costs of declining enrollment, inflation, increased utility costs, increased retirement costs and increased special education costs.
All other district employees have accepted a 5% raise as of August 2022, which includes most district leaders.
Hill’s base salary increased to $260,642 last year, 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. Superintendent Vivian Ekchian of Glendale Unified signed a contract in 2019 that gave her a base salary surpassing $300,000 per year and Superintendent Wendy Sinnette of La Cañada Unified currently earns $274,794 annually.
“To accept the 9% proposal, we would need to reduce our expenditures in the 2024-25 school year by $9.3 million to balance our budget. We know that we need to increase compensation for our valued employees. We are committed to reviewing the entire budget with our collective bargaining partners so that we can identify ways to increase compensation,” Hill said.
As teachers and other district staff picketed in front of City Hall, passing cars sounded honks of support, pedestrians shook hands with demonstrators and some Burbank students joined in on the action.
“Teachers don’t get paid enough for the work that they do and how they spend their money just for us,” John Muir Middle School student Leah Sargaria said during the meeting.
Prior to entering City Hall, Burbank Teachers took to the steps, chanting “hold the line at nine,” making reference to their desired 9% raise.
Several teachers told the Leader that, because of rising housing costs, they are unable to purchase homes in Burbank.
“I’m fortunate enough that I’m probably the last generation of teachers that’s going to be able to buy a house in Burbank. That’s a problem. If people want teachers living in their neighborhoods, as opposed to investors coming into to flip and sell houses — you’ve got to support our teachers,” said John Muir Middle School teacher Stephen James, who has worked for BUSD for 25 years.
James added that test scores continue to improve in Burbank, evidence of teachers’ hard work.
“Teaching has become a data-driven job. And we’re always looking at numbers to see what we have done to improve. For example, if you look at [John Muir Middle], our test scores go up year over year. So, I feel in many ways we have earned this 9%,” James said.
Retention was also top of mind during Thursday’s demonstrations. Michelle Otis, a teacher at Monterey High School, said that she has seen new teachers gain experience within BUSD, only to leave to higher paying districts.
“We’ll get new teachers; we train them up and they become really good teachers. Then they go to other districts because they pay more. It’s really disheartening. I think that students deserve better,” Otis said.
Chief among the statements to the school board Thursday night were testimonies detailing why teachers and parents chose Burbank. The answer invariably was “the schools.”
“We chose Burbank. Now Burbank has to choose us,” Abasta said.
First published in the April 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.