Board Of Education Hears Parent Concerns On Disney School Construction Delay, Approves Bond Refinancing For Taxpayer Savings

(Photo By Ross Benson)

The Burbank Board of Education heard concerns from several Walt Disney Elementary School parents over the continued delay of construction at the school site, in addition to other comments and concerns from the community at the regular meeting held online on Thursday, September 17.

The Board of Education (BOE) also heard the Superintendent’s report on Distance Learning and approved a number of items, including a Bond Refunding and Refinancing Plan and the 2020-21 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan.

The BOE meeting opened with reports from Student Board Representatives – Nadaly Jones (John Burroughs High School), Andrea Espinoza (Monterey High School) and Carmen Blanchard (Burbank High School) – on the latest activities in their school communities.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Former John Muir Middle School student, Chloe Bauer, who’s currently in ninth grade at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, communicated to the Board her concern about the possible removal of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry from seventh-grade English curriculum.

Tori Cuseo, a Spanish teacher at John Muir Middle School, talked about the goals and efforts of the new Burbank Teachers Association Justice and Equity Team (JET), which meets monthly.

The team is examining what it means to be an anti-racist educator and an advocate for all students, Cuseo said. “We want to do our best to make the community better for all students.”

Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta made comments in support of JET and lauded the efforts of Burbank Unified staff and teachers engaged in Distance Learning.

Several parents of students at Walt Disney Elementary School decried the lack of communication and ongoing delays in beginning construction on the two-story remodel planned for the school site.

Disney was initially scheduled for construction remodel, to be paid for from Measure S Bond funds, in 2017. Redesign of the original plan to build a two-story wing instead of a one-story remodel delayed construction start, initially. But more recent ongoing delays to the construction start have many parents very upset and frustrated.

“When was the last time any of you walked on our campus before COVID?” asked parent Nicole Martin. “When was the last time you stepped into out library and computer room? Did you notice the bowed ceilings? Have you smelled when the AC comes on in the wing classrooms? See the tiles coming up?”

All Board members and Superintendent Matt Hill acknowledged that communication with parents, at Disney and District-wide, must be better.

Board member Steve Ferguson thanked the parents for escalating concerns over communication and construction delays and requested the Board perform an immediate site walk to see safety issues that may need to be addressed.

Board member Roberta Reynolds agreed with the parents that “delays have been extremely frustrating because [the construction] is so crucial.”

Board President Armond Aghakhanian expressed frustration with the continual lack of communication parents District-wide have been expressing over recent months and directed District administration to come up with a plan to improve communications with parents immediately.

Hill gave an update on Distance Learning to the Board, something the school board has requested for each of the regularly scheduled meetings, which are held every two weeks.

He noted a large jump in the number of meals picked up in the previous week – almost 10,000 more than from the week before, due to the implementation and announcement of free meals for all BUSD students regardless of income, funded by the USDA through the end of December 2020.

“The focus is to make sure families in need get the meals,” Hill said, as he addressed social media speculation that had been recently circulating. “These meals are intended for families who need them right now. You should not pick up the meals and distribute to others. It does not help retain jobs or our budget if you’re picking up meals.”

Hill also noted that overall attendance for synchronous learning remains at 98% and the number of disengaged students has dropped to 138, as BUSD continues intervention efforts, which he detailed to the Board. Asynchronous attendance in the afternoons is 77% overall and 71% on Fridays.

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Debbie Kukta, introduced a General Obligation Bond Refunding proposal, which was then presented in an overview by Khushroo Gheyara of CFW Advisory Services, who has worked with BUSD for more than 10 years.

The Board of Education went on to approve the proposal, which will bank approximately $5.7 million in interest savings for local taxpayers over time, because of current historically low interest rates in the bond market.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for September 17 can be found online here.

The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Vice President Steve Frintner, Clerk Charlene Tabet, and members Dr. Roberta Reynolds and Steve Ferguson. More information on the Board can be found online here.