HomeBlocksFront-GridBurbank Unified School District Eyes Bond Measure to Offset Budget Shortfall

Burbank Unified School District Eyes Bond Measure to Offset Budget Shortfall

Declining birth rates, aging facilities, soaring housing costs and shrinking state funding combine to make a bleak economic outlook for the Burbank Unified School District, but leaders are rallying behind a plan to bolster coffers while keeping teachers paid and school doors open.

That plan centers around the extension of existing bond revenues, a measure which may land on ballots this November, and one that School Board members, teachers and district officials alike say is necessary to fund nearly $1.2 billion in necessary repairs for aging facilities, freeing up budget dollars for quality education programs and teacher payroll.

“There’s stuff that can wait, but there’s stuff that cannot wait,” BUSD School Board President Emily Weisburg told the Leader. “We’re doing the best we can, but without an [additional] revenue stream, we can’t do more than we’re doing.”

The new bond being considered by the Board, called a general obligation bond, likely won’t raise taxes.

Instead, the proposed bond will enact a rate extension on existing bonds already passed by Burbank voters, one in 1997 that is due to be paid off in 2026, and another passed in 2013 that will sunset in 2038. The extension is intended to stabilize taxes for Burbank residents and would result in $450 million in funding for Burbank schools over the next 12 years.

The funds generated would finance the repair of Burbank schools, which need the money for updates and improvements. The repairs include fixing more than 90 leaks on school roofs, which could cost more than $100 million alone to fix or replace.

Current funding isn’t enough to cover the district’s existing costs, the largest being salaries. In a meeting on Dec. 14, district leadership announced the need to cut $4.6 million from the budget in the next year alone, warning that coffers will fall into deficit spending over the next two years, with expenses exceeding revenue by about $10 million per year.

Officials say the state is partly to blame for the district’s funding woes.

Burbank finds itself on one of the lower rungs of the state funding ladder. Sacramento foots 81% of BUSD’s bill, and the check is signed based on enrollment numbers. It boils down to about $11,000 per student, plus an additional $2,000 per student for the 35% who are low income, homeless, English learners or in the foster care system.

Because of those demographics, Burbank trails behind its neighboring districts just blocks away in Glendale and Los Angeles. Glendale receives 20% more in funding dollars per student than Burbank, and L.A. Unified School District gets an additional 65%, according to BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Service Andrew Cantwell.

“So Burbank is in that really challenging demographic category where we’re not winners in the state funding formula,” said Cantwell.

To make matters worse, Burbank’s dismal housing stock means rent and housing prices are increasing, a factor that is forcing out young families and driving enrollment down further, officials say.

The City Council has set a goal of building 15,000 new housing units by 2035, a move that they expect will attract young families to the city, driving enrollment in BUSD schools and generating new education funding.

“The first [reason] is the declining birthrate. People are having fewer kids. The second is the increasing lack of affordable housing in Burbank. And not just affordable housing, there’s just not any available inventory,” said Weisberg. “This is what the numbers are showing us. People are not having kids, and then they can’t afford to stay here.”

Superintendent John Paramo said that the district does well at attracting students from other districts, while retaining students who live in Burbank. For example, 155 students matriculated into the city from other districts this school year, while fewer than 20 students who live in Burbank sought permits to enroll in neighboring school districts.

“There’s a huge gap between the number of permits we take in and the number of permits we let go, because we let go very few permits,” said Paramo in an interview with the Leader. “On the topic of enrollment, before we got data back from our demographer, I thought that the major reason why students were leaving was because they were moving out of state, and while there is some of that happening, it’s not statistically significant,” like birthrates and affordability are, he added.

The recent turnover of district and School Board leadership has created a sense of optimism and consensus at BUSD headquarters, said Burbank Teachers Association President Nicole Drabecki, adding that the board, superintendent and teachers are rallying behind the bond measure.

Initially, teachers endorsed passing a parcel tax first, which would have levied new taxes to create funds for payroll, raises and benefits. Now, however, teachers are aligned on passing the bond measure first, which will create funds for school site renovations, and the parcel tax could come at the next midterm election.

“In the end, I think our community wants what’s best for our students. We want them to be successful. We want them to be prepared, and passing a bond and eventually a parcel tax is something that we really need, and I do hope our community will support that,” said Drabecki.

Both Paramo and Weisberg endorsed the idea and said they would like to see a parcel tax measure on the ballot in 2026.

Paramo said he wants to prove that the district can manage the budget responsibly following an $11 million budget misallocation last year, sending BUSD into a crisis ahead of then-Superintendent Matt Hill’s termination.

“The bond is an opportunity for us to build goodwill with the community, and to prove that we can be trustworthy. And I’m hoping that if we do that, and we do it successfully, that we’ll be able to change some minds about a parcel tax in 2026,” said Paramo. “I wouldn’t be asking you for assistance if I didn’t truly need it and thought that it was the right thing for kids. … While we could increase the tax at a much higher rate, that’s not what we’re asking. What we’re asking is ‘can you agree to extend the current time of the bond?’ The goal is to be fiscally responsible. We’re not trying to be renegades in any way.”

The School Board will have to act by August to get a bond measure on the November ballot. It’s a short timeline to be sure, said Weisberg, but one that she believes the Board can accomplish.

First published in the February 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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