The exodus of young families from Burbank is costing the Burbank Unified School District millions of dollars in state funding and will lead to deep budget cuts as soon as this year.
A recent report by the district projected that the student body will be reduced by as much as 25% over the next 10 years, and that’s bad news for Burbank schools, which receive state funding primarily based on student enrollment and attendance.
In a meeting on Dec. 14, district leadership announced the need to cut $4.6 million from the budget in the next year alone.
“The main reason why we are in this situation of having to cut [millions] out of the general fund is because of declined enrollment, and that is a reality that I am not sure everyone has come to terms with,” said Superintendent John Paramo.
District leadership emphasized that Burbank has traditionally been a strong hub for families and is known for being one of the best communities around Los Angeles County for young people.
“Now we are shifting to a population where that’s simply not going to be the case,” said Board Member Steve Ferguson. “These numbers are sobering. What do you mean a quarter of our district is not going to be here in the matter of a decade? That’s a different town than the one we know.”
Board members discussed strategies to bolster enrollment, including a program to allow parents who live outside of Burbank, but work 10 or more hours in the city, to enroll their children in BUSD schools.
The core problem though, according to the Board, is housing costs.
“Part of the problem is the declining birthrate, people are leaving California and then there’s the astronomical cost of living in Burbank, which forces people to leave,” said Board President Emily Weisburg.
Those issues culminate in a steep, declining student population in the city. With enrollment already declining steadily in recent years, BUSD revenues have absorbed a deep loss, and without a correction in spending, the district’s balance will hit zero.
Under current budget spending, the district will end 2024 with a $31 million balance in unrestricted funding. By 2026, that same end-balance is projected at just $10.46 million. The district warned that coffers will fall into deficit spending over the next two years, meaning expenses will exceed revenue by about $10 million per year.
“Our revenue is declining significantly from last year, and it’s going to continue over the coming years,” said Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Andrew Cantwell.
Revenues spiked as state funding swelled to support schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that curve now trends downward for the coming years and the problem is exacerbated by Burbank’s declining enrollment, said Cantwell.
“The state allowed us to have a bit of a runway before feeling the full effect of the enrollment decline,” said Cantwell.
According to the district, deep cuts will be necessary if the district is to stay healthy and solvent. BUSD administrators have proposed a series of ongoing employment reductions, slashing payroll costs, which they say will save them $3 million annually.
Last June, BUSD disclosed an $11 million accounting error ahead of the surprise decision to place Superintendent Matt Hill on administrative leave. Of those funds, $8.7 million was intended for district staff raises and vacation pay — and they were not counted in the 2022-23’s budget balance. As a result, the district ended last year with a $36 million balance, as opposed to an initial projected $25 million.
Under the 2023-24 school budget, 85% of the district’s funding goes to salary and benefits, and while specifics are still being negotiated, district leaders hope to make many of the future cuts “through attrition.” This will avoid cutting full-time teaching positions as much as possible, potentially trimming some of the excess from other school support staff roles.
“When we look at the number of teachers indicated on the fiscal stabilization plan, the public needs to know that number is mitigated when you look at the number of teachers that are going to retire naturally,” said Paramo.
Nicole Dribecki — president of the Burbank Teachers Association — told the board that BTA intends to bargain the impact and effects on proposed reductions.
“We have a revenue problem here in Burbank. That is why the community must understand why we need a parcel tax one day,” Dribecki said. “Programs and teaching positions will continue to be eliminated until we get more revenue, and the declining enrollment stops.”
A parcel tax would provide additional funding for schools and would generate the revenue needed to wane the district off its reliance on deficit spending, however, daily attendance is the primary driver for funding that BUSD receives from the state.
Dribecki also emphasized that rising housing prices continue to force families out of Burbank, which drives down total enrollment and in turn, leads to the revenue problems the district is experiencing.
Still, the district noted, average daily attendance is up, resulting in some relief.
“We need families to move to Burbank and we need affordable housing and more housing to be built in Burbank,” Dribecki concluded.
Board Vice President Armond Aghakhanian encouraged state lawmakers to restructure education funding.
“Our education and our children’s future is at stake right now. I hope everyone will write to their elected officials with the state,” Aghakhanian said.
First published in the January 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.