Burbank Community Leaders Continue to Ring the Measure “S” Bell

By On March 3, 2013

By John Savageau
BurbankNBeyond

On 5 March Burbank residents will have the opportunity to vote on Measure “S,” a bond measure that would provide nearly $110 million in new funding to upgrade district schools, paid for by the tax payers over a period of up to 40 years.  There has been an aggressive pro Measure S campaign urging voters to approve the measure, with few opposing views offered as a check or balance to the campaign.

According to Marsha Ramos, former Burbank Mayor and Chair, Friends of Burbank Schools – Yes on Measure S campaign believes the bond measure is essential. Ramos concedes taxpayers may be weary of new measures and new tax burdens, particularly given perceptions of Burbank’s performance on previous bond measures.

However the new measure is backed by a considerable amount of background work.  Documents provided by Ramos to BurbankNBeyond break down planned expenditures by school facility, category of expenditure, and planned budget for each facility.  Major categories include asphalt safety, security, building structural repairs, green air conditioning and electrical equipment upgrades, as well as upgrading the use of technology within the school system to ensure Burbank students remain competitive in education and graduate with skills needed to function in the work force.

The cost of Measure “S” to the tax payers will not vary over the course of the bond’s life.  Measure “S“ is a general obligation bond, not a capital appreciation bond as used in other cities. According to Ramos in a message to BurbankNBeyond, the type of bonds and Interest rates will be determined at an open and public Burbank School Board meeting. These interest rates at bond issuance will not change; none of the bonds will have a variable or adjustable interest rate.  If passed, Measure S bonds would authorize the Burbank Unified School District to issue general obligation bonds up to $110,000,000.

There is also an opportunity for additional state modernization and construction matching funds, as well as  opening the door for BUSD to apply for federal “E-Rate Technology Funds” which are grants used to build technology infrastructure.

Few would argue the benefits of upgrading schools to incorporate modern “green” technologies for better electrical and air-conditioning efficiencies.  All organizations should consider replacing old mechanical and electrical infrastructure, as it will not only be more efficient, but also have an opportunity to greatly decrease operational costs to the schools such as use of electricity.

With the recent highly visible shootings at schools and other public places very few would seriously question the need for increased or enhanced security systems within the schools.

One area questioned, as noted by School Board President Larry Applebaum, is the planned use of funds for technology upgrades in the schools.  Like all things technology, everybody has an opinion on how technology should be used in schools.  Topics including eLearning, the types of technology education needed, and the use of basics such as network access, WiFi, servers, applications, and curriculum are on the minds of all persons with an opinion.

The question on most people’s minds, aside from the opinion on correct curriculum, is the lifecycle of hardware or software licenses which may be purchased with Measure “S” funds.  Should tax payers be burdened with a 25 year bill, at a quoted rate of 2.5:1 (from the BUSD web site), for a technology hardware purchase which may have a maximum expected life cycle of less than 5 years?

Is it time to consider subscription models of technology, and transition the burden of CAPEX to an OPEX model?  It it time to seriously consider moving into the “cloud” and subscribing to hosted applications that relieve the district from CAPEX purchase with a short lifecycle.

Applebaum, in a message and attached spreadsheet (GOGeneralBondProjectListJan2013.xls) forwarded from Ramos to BurbankNBeyond, describes the technology strategy in several steps.  One technology-related item “recognizes the technology infrastructure piece at each location, which includes network switches, servers, school-wide WiFi equipment, and related connections.  These items form the backbone of our future technology vision at our schools.”

Applebaum’s note continues to explain technology strategies.

It should be noted that less than half of the total dollars set aside here in total would be used to obtain content delivery devices.  While some schools have fundraised or otherwise accumulated dollars in order to purchase and install, LED projectors, document cameras and instructor voice amplification systems, many of our sites have not, so those would be the first things you would see us move on to assure each classroom has these basics. 

Beyond that, smart boards and interactive student response devices would be next on the hit parade, and those are the items that are being piloted in 8 of our district classrooms right now as we speak.  I would anticipate discussions occurring at the end of the school year with the teachers piloting the equipment as well as others that want to weigh, in order for us to move to a singular, common standard for these units. 

To my knowledge, while we have purchased some iPads already in the district, primarily for special education students, we have not begun to look at developing the standard for content delivery devices across each grade span yet.  This discussion needs to happen before we move to purchase these devices en masse, and more importantly, we will need to develop an ongoing plan that addresses the maintenance, support and replacement of this equipment before I would be inclined to move towards product acquisition. 

My sense is that we will roll out initially using a BYOD (Bring your own device) model as has proven successful in other districts.  The key is to assure we have some basic tool available for any student who doesn’t own or whose parent will not allow them to use a family owned device.  The numbers I have heard from some districts that have tried this is 50-60% of the students bringing in something. 

It becomes a bit more challenging to implement using this model, as any instructional content must be accessible across every platform (ie. Kindle, iPad, Nook, Android, Windows, etc).  We are quite a ways from being ready to move in this direction in any event.

Most may agree that in the coming years very few households and students will be without some level of access device, such as a tablet computer, smartphone, laptop, or other “BYOD” capable device.  This, if accepted, would certainly allow BUSD to enter a more effective, flexible, and innovative subscription model of eLearning.

Representative Adam Schiff from California’s 28th District summed up the opinions of many leaders on Measure “S” in an exclusive BurbankNBeyond interview:

I think it is really vital that we have the best possible facilities for our students.  That we are prepared to meet the demands of n incredibly global and competitive workplace.  Improving those facilities, making sure they are safer areas for students to not only learn, but to gather before and after school to enjoy (activities), athletic facilities – I think is really important.

This is an investment in our future. We have to make sure the best use of fund, and there is good oversight of the funds.

But upgrading classrooms, making way for new technology, replacing some of the aging portables and electrical systems, these are things that we should be doing.

When you look at some of the work that has been done to modernize high schools for example, it’s been very impressive, very necessary, and I am proud to support Measure “S.”

The Burbank City School Board Primary Nominating Election is on 5 March, and Measure “S” will also be approved or dropped during this ballot.  The Burbank General Municipal Election is slated for 9 April.  BurbankNBeyond encourages all Burbank residents to become familiar with all sides of the Measure S issue, and make your opinion known by casting your vote on Tuesday.