Burbank Board Of Education Swears In Student Members, Hears Reports On Distance Learning And The Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

By On September 9, 2020

The Burbank Board of Education administered the Oath of Office to three Student Board Members and heard reports on Distance Learning and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee at their regular biweekly meeting held on Thursday, September 3.

The meeting began with a remembrance of Monterey High School teacher Keith Lang, who recently passed away. Board members and other speakers shared memories of the teacher throughout the more than three-hour-long meeting.

The three Student Board Members – Carmen Blanchard from Burbank High School, Nadaly Jones from John Burroughs High School and Andrea Espinoza from Monterey High School – each gave a report on the various efforts of their school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) and ongoing projects.

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

Four speakers addressed the Board during Public Comments.

Parent Libby Fortman expressed frustration with the mask mandate, remote learning and social distancing.

Parent Liz Bax expressed concerns over BUSD’s not always clear communications and requested more attention be paid to parental input, particularly with the development of the hybrid learning model and an eventual return to in person education. She also shared concerns about AP students not getting enough instruction time in order to prepare for Spring AP tests.

Senior Burbank High School student Sophie Peterson questioned why the AP French and French 3 classes were placed together in one remote learning class and was concerned she and other students aren’t getting enough instruction and class time to be prepared for the Spring AP test.

Burbank Teachers Association President and Burbank High School English teacher Diana Abasta addressed the Board, commenting on the hard work and progress teachers have made with remote learning. She lauded the efforts of all BUSD employees, particularly the classified workers.

Superintendent Matt Hill and each Board member responded to each commenter in turn.

Although Los Angeles County Public Health recently indicated schools may possibly be able to bring back small groups of students soon, starting with Special Education and English Learners, Hill said, the County is not yet offering waivers for elementary schools.

“We will continue to discuss hybrid learning,” he added, indicating an update on that model would be presented to the Board at the October 1 meeting, and directly after that BUSD would seek community dialogue.

Hill gave a report on the newly created Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He asked that any Burbank stakeholder who has an interest in joining a subcommittee email him for information.

The committee has been working with a California Teachers Association consultant, Reena Doyle, to look at BUSD K-12 education for systemic bias, adjust the curriculum and find ways to promote equity, diversity and inclusion.

Some classic English literature books that have been taught for many decades, including To Kill A Mockingbird, The Cay, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been identified as problematic for racist language and stereotypical depictions of Black people.

“This is not about censorship but about righting the wrongs of the past,” said Hill, as he also noted the efforts of the BUSD students of the Diversify Our Narrative campaign who have joined the work.

Hill also mentioned the committee was looking at Ethnic Studies pathways to add to the curriculum. The State of California has indicated an ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation will be mandated in the near future.

In Hill’s report on Distance Learning, he noted that for the period of August 27 through September 1, BUSD students averaged approximately 98% attendance for the live/synchronous learning. However, students from K-12 are averaging 74% attendance for asynchronous or independent learning attendance check ins.

Although a more complete report is forthcoming, Hill mentioned that more absences are being recorded in the asynchronous component for elementary age students. He also noted that tracking of asynchronous learning across all grades has been problematic.

This year, the State is not financially penalizing school districts for Average Daily Attendance drops, but school attendance is required, so school officials are working to sort out the reasons for the disparity.

Hill also emphasized that any student or family who is experiencing trouble connecting to the internet, to contact their school principal and request a hotspot and/or Chromebook. If students and families are having technical issues with their equipment, they should contact their school principal as well or check on the District website for troubleshooting tips.

As of August 27, BUSD has distributed 5614 Chromebooks and 1395 hotspots, utilizing Federal funds.

For the first week of school, BUSD distributed 10,890 meals, which dropped to 5830 meals the second week. However, 8830 meals have been distributed in the third week. Those with questions about the meal pickup process should contact the Food Services team.

BUSD can provide free meals (nutrition and lunch) to all of its 15,000 students, regardless of income, due to a recent expansion of the Summer Food Service Program.

The Board and Hill also discussed the Learning, Continuity and Attendance Plan which was provided to BUSD stakeholders in the form of videos on Wednesday, September 2. A link to those videos can be found on the District’s website here.

The videos discuss a possible return to in-person instruction. BUSD seeks comments from stakeholders and encourages people to email their comments to ReOpeningSchool@Burbankusd.org. Comments may also be made on the videos which also appear on the District’s Facebook page.

The Board of Education proclaimed September 2020 as PTA Membership Month.

Burbank Council PTA President Wendi Harvel gave a presentation on the efforts of the PTA at the State and local level. VP of Membership Lori Little highlighted easy membership signups on Council PTA’s website.

Erin Konstantine, VP of Legislation and Advocacy for Burbank Council PTA, also spoke in support of Proposition 15, which is on the ballot in November.

She quoted former California State PTA President Carol Kocivar, saying, “It doesn’t do a darn thing to your home. It doesn’t affect residential property at all. Prop 15 doesn’t hurt homeowners and it helps small businesses by eliminating their personal property tax. Prop 15 gets money by closing a tax loophole that has allowed billion dollar companies to evade millions in taxes that should be going to our schools and communities.”

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Debbie Kukta, emphasized that should Prop 15 pass, it will bring 9.1 million dollars to Burbank Unified.

Kukta then discussed the Unaudited Actuals report, a closing report on the budget for the prior fiscal year. She noted that the District’s financial situation is better than expected, particularly with the change in the State budget in June, as certain financial burdens were deferred by the Governor and Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) monies were restored by the State. She also went over Federal funding, particularly funds resulting from COVID-19 stimulus packages.

But, she warned, the structural deficits for 2021-22 and 2022-23 remain and must be prepared for.

Kukta also noted BUSD has received an A+ credit rating from Standard and Poor’s.

Because the HEROES act has stalled in the Senate, there is no additional Federal stimulus funding on the horizon currently.

Burbank Unified relies on State and Federal funding. The City of Burbank is financially separate and while they are a strong partner with certain types of support, Kukta noted, the City does not have a dedicated financial contribution to the District.

The Board approved the purchase of a one year contract for electronic high school Social Science textbooks, paid for by the Lottery Textbook Fund, thus providing current materials for high school classes.

“We are hoping by the end of the year to be able to adopt the textbook in full,” commented John Paramo, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for September 3 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.