HomeSchools & YouthAmid Staff Cuts, Burbank School Board Pushes Bond Measure

Amid Staff Cuts, Burbank School Board Pushes Bond Measure

The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education approved layoffs for 12 teaching positions and slashed hours for teachers and classified employees amid increasingly dire funding hardship, caused by declining enrollment and a growing state deficit.

The panel also endorsed sourcing new revenues from a bond measure on the ballot this November, highlighting the need for local funding to support the repair of BUSD’s eroding school sites, at the March 7 Board meeting.

The cuts in staffing and hours will result in about $1.6 million in yearly savings, according to BUSD staff. Library coordinators, special education staff, after school program staff and paraeducators will see cuts in hours, while 12 teaching positions will be cut at the end of the school year. The specific school sites affected have yet to be announced.

“The cuts were quite deep. The initial target was $1.2 million, but in order to provide services to our English language learners, we had to cut deeper,” said Superintendent John Paramo. “Every single district staffing member involved in this decision were teachers in the classroom, and none of us wants to do this.”

District staff said that cuts in teaching and teaching and support aids were reduced from an initial estimate of 29 to the final figure of 12, after BUSD offered an early retirement incentive.

“These are the hardest votes we have to take,” said Board President Emily Weisberg.

BUSD leadership is in the process of cutting $4.6 million from the budget in the next year alone, warning that the district will be operating at a deficit over the next two years, with expenses exceeding revenue by about $10 million per year.

Current funding isn’t enough to cover the district’s costs, the largest being salaries, Paramo said at the meeting.

Declining birth rates, aging facilities, soaring housing costs and shrinking state funding spurred on by a growing state budget deficit means district revenues are down significantly. The state’s Legislative Analyst Office said last month that billions in cuts to education would be unnavoidable.

To make matters worse, enrollment drives funding from the state, and because of rising housing costs and lower birth rates, there are fewer children attending Burbank schools. As a result, fewer state dollars are available to pay teacher salaries.

Paramo issued a warning during the meeting about the state’s financial bind brought on by a ballooning $73 billion deficit.

“It does not look good, and that’s hard for me to say. … What was articulated in January as the budget deficit for the state was understated, and it looks like a much bigger number and a much bigger deficit,” Paramo said.

The district receives about 81% of its revenues from state funding.

Because of this shortfall, BUSD leaders and teachers are rallying behind a plan to bolster coffers while keeping existing teachers paid and school doors open.

That plan centers around the extension of existing bond revenues, keeping taxes at the current rate. The measure could land on ballots this November, and School Board members, teachers and district officials alike say it’s necessary to fund nearly $1.2 billion in necessary repairs for aging facilities, freeing up budget dollars for quality education programs and teacher payroll.

If approved, a parcel tax could follow in a future election cycle, according to the Board.

A 2020 parcel tax initiative was defeated in the polls by just 900 votes. Most of the revenue from the proposed tax would have increased salaries to retain and attract teachers to the district as well as kept and expanded arts, science, career and college courses, the Burbank Leader reported at the time. It received 64.12% in support of the tax, falling just shy of a two-thirds supermajority required to pass the revenue measure.

“It was a ton of work just to convince the 64% to vote for a parcel tax,” said Board member Steve Ferguson. “The [opposition] is going to continue to show up.”

Now, though, a parcel tax won’t be a possibility until at least 2026, when the School Board plans to give the initiative another shot in the polls. The district hopes to first find new revenues through a bond extension, which won’t raise taxes for Burbank residents.

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 bond funds generated would only finance the repair of Burbank schools, whereas a future parcel tax could be used to generate new funding which would be largely set aside for payroll expenditures, 90% of the district’s expenses.

But to do that, the district needs the support of the Burbank community, and board members acknowledged an organized opposition who are against new and rising taxes.

“As superintendent of BUSD, I want to say to our community that this is the time for us to really band together. We need to work as a community to figure out how we move forward from this,” said Paramo.

First published in the March 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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