Burbank Unified Ponders Elimination Of Stage Craft Technology, Many CTE Programs

JBHS Tech Crew set building. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

Faced with the proposed elimination of the popular and, as many see it, vital Stage Craft Technology program at both Burbank and John Burroughs High Schools, many Burbank Unified School District parents, students and other stakeholders are rallying support and sending statements on the importance of the program to members of the Board of Education.

Since parcel tax Measure I narrowly failed to pass in March, proposals to cut $3.8 million to balance the budget and pay the District’s looming annual pension bill will be discussed, along with fundraising strategies at the next school board meeting on Thursday, April 16.

“Last year, we worked with our elected officials to request one-time funding from the State to reduce the pension liability,” commented BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill. “The Governor included it in this year’s budget, but did not include additional funding in his January budget proposal for next year. We were continuing to advocate for more funding, but with COVID-19, it is unlikely that will occur; however, we are going to advocate for the Governor to use the Rainy Day funds to assist school districts during this difficult time.”

Many Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs are on the chopping block, in a bid to cut $250,000 from that section of the 2020-21 budget. The cost to run the Stage Craft Technology program is roughly $100,000 per year for both schools combined, according to District officials.

Also referred to as Tech Crew, the Stage Craft Technology programs currently have 52 students in two classes at JBHS and 30 students in one class at BHS. The program at JBHS is held during periods five and six of the school day, while Burbank High’s Stage Craft Tech students meet after school for a credited class that meets twice weekly for a total of five hours.

stage craft technology
Burbank High Stage Craft Technology students work on “Alice in Wonderland”: lights, sound and stage management, run of show.
(Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

The Burroughs High Performing Arts Department (instrumental music, vocal music, drama and dance), along with ASB, is heavily supported by teacher Jon King and Tech Crew. Similarly, teacher Karen Broderick and BHS Stage Craft Technology students also support all performing arts department shows as part of their curriculum, with the exception of BHS show choir performances, which hire professionals.

Stage Craft Technology students run lights and sound and manage the stage for each high school’s shows, as well as build sets. There has been significant financial investment by the school district and parents in each school’s tech and stage setups and auditoriums over the years, and without oversight of a Stage Craft teacher, there is high risk of loss, theft and damage.

The district also rents out school auditoriums, with BUSD Facilities requiring that the Stage Craft teacher is hired to oversee and run lights, sound and manage stage. The concern is that outside vendors and employees will not care for the equipment as the Stage Craft teacher does.

Many Stage Craft Technology students have found work right after high school graduation, while several others go on to study lighting and sound design at college and other technical programs. Stage Craft Tech is one of the most successful programs in BUSD that follows the State mandate for schools to develop College & Career Pathways, and which BUSD has received grants for their efforts. Students are easily placed as interns and hired outright in the many local media and entertainment businesses, for lighting, sound, props and production, for independent and major film, television and video studios.

JBHS Tech Crew buildling a set. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

BUSD partners such as Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. have also invested in the high school Stage Craft programs. Concerned stakeholders are worried about the kind of message abandoning a well-established and growing program sends to BUSD partners.

The Stage Craft Technology class has been in place at Burbank High and John Burroughs High for more than a decade, officially, and for a lot longer as part of the Drama and Choir programs before becoming an official class.

JBHS parent Malia Whitaker recently started a Facebook Group called “Save BUSD Tech Crew Programs,” that she hopes will motivate and garner support for the program from throughout the community. Many parents, BUSD graduates and local professionals have joined to organize their support for the high school program.

“We have many Burroughs graduates in our entertainment union earning area standard wages with health benefits due to working in the entertainment business. Most of this is from taking part in Jr. High school and High School (at that time called) Drama classes,” IATSE Local 33 Business Agent, Ron Valentine, a graduate of JBHS, commented on the Facebook Group page. “This class and the Techs are of vital importance to the future in the live entertainment business.”

BHS Tech Crew supports Drama Department’s “Alice in Wonderland”, October 2019, stage build 1 (Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

“With the non-stop change of technology, these classes are of value. Not only do we do entertainment but take part in city functions such as setting up political rallies with platforming, audio/video, rigging city streets for special events, we have an emergency response team for setting up temp hospital shelters for the recent COVID-19 event, or any other disaster claimed area to assist with first responders,” Valentine added. “These are the middle class jobs that support our city economically while putting food on the table, healthcare for your family, and a little money in the bank.”

What CTE programs will be recommended to be cut at April 16’s Second Interim Budget meeting?

Play Production at Jordan Middle School (after school class), Stage Craft Technology at John Burroughs High School, Stage Craft Technology at Burbank High School and after school classes in Animal Care, Retail Marketing, Film/Video Production and Animation, according to Sharon Cuseo, BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services. The Digital Media and Animation classes held during the school day would remain intact.

“The dual enrollment courses that are offered in partnership with Los Angeles Valley College and Glendale Community College will continue. The colleges pay for the staffing and the district pays the cost of the facility and the textbooks. These courses include: Armenian 1 & 2; Communication Studies (Speech); Child Development; Media Arts (Introduction to Screenwriting); Art (Drawing).”

JBHS Tech Crew lighting design. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

“The impact of the elimination of the Stage Craft Technology courses at John Burroughs High School and Burbank High School will have an impact on the schools,” Cuseo admits. “We do not have another mechanism of support for the schools and their productions.”

“The reductions would be in effect for the 2020-2021 school year. The Board and Superintendent will be discussing the proposed cuts at the next Board meeting and will also discuss potential fundraising strategies… [and priorities for the entire 3.8 million dollars worth of cuts, not just the 250K specifically for CTE],” Cuseo added. “It is our hope we can work creatively with the community to mitigate some of these terrible cuts.”

“Not only do they help to run all shows in the [Performing] Arts Departments, the Tech Crew also works to make all assemblies, pep rallies, dances, extra school events, as well as graduation, to run,” commented JBHS parent Liz Bax, who co-chairs the Tech Crew parent volunteer group with Dawn Mateo. “All this work is done on top of their academic school day. I really wonder how all of these jobs will get done without these non-paid students.”

BHS Tech Crew: “Alice in Wonderland”, set build 2. (Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

“These students are all devastated that this program has become a recommended cut,” Bax added. “By being in this program, these students have the chance to get real hands on training along with being able to go directly into the job force after graduation, if they choose. For these students it has become their passion and their community.  For some, their time in high school has dramatically changed, making a difference in these students lives.”

“I do know the district  and the school board has a hard job ahead of them,” she also said. “I am aware that Tech Crew is not the only program that is on the chopping block. These cuts are incredibly hard to make. Please understand I think very highly of the school board and the administrators. My hope is that ultimately the school board will chose to NOT cut this valuable CTE program or find another way to at least fund the Burroughs and Burbank High School Tech Crew Program.”

“I was in the program from 2014-2017,” commented JBHS ’17 graduate Katrina Villareal, who currently works in Entertainment Tech Services for Disney doing lighting and SPRAT rigging. “It became such a passion I would spend hours learning lighting and quickly started designing shows. I was the LD for almost all our big productions in Drama, and the VMA. Tech Crew is such a special craft that truly did bring together kids from all walks of life and extremely different personalities but we all managed to become best friends after.”

JBHS Tech Crew set building. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

“The program taught me a foundation to lighting design, networking, and programming that I needed to get jobs in the outside world. We went through hours of packets breaking down audio, lighting, and rigging, to make sure we understood the ins and outs of all the equipment we had and the intricacies and science to how our tech works. Through Jon King and the program, he allowed me this creative freedom I really didn’t believe I had. I’ve gotten nominations from the Jerry Herman Awards, Certificates for Lighting, and just seeing the shows I even impressed my family when they saw what I did.”

“If it wasn’t for this program I wouldn’t have been able to travel around the country and the world doing what I love. When I graduated and got that volunteer service medal I had over 900 hours of work because that’s how much I cared for the program and wanted to be better at the craft,” Villareal also said.

“This program is a true testament to hard work really paying off. Me and some of my best friends from the program today found secure jobs because of what we knew and who we met through this program. Otherwise we would’ve been in very different places in our lives today,” she said. “I care a lot about these kids and the program that I came back this year to help them as they went to different choir competitions and to teach them whatever they needed to learn lighting and video wise.”

“The Technical Theatre class at Burroughs is the main reason of where I am today. I was only in the program for 3 years, 2012-2015, but it gave me all the knowledge I needed to go in to the event lighting industry,” commented Billy Yakes, a JBHS ’15 graduate. “Thanks to this class I already had a great connection with a local lighting company and was able to start working almost immediately, I think it was within a month or two of graduating.”

Aaron Wilson (BHS graduate), helps with lighting class, Spring 2019. (Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

“Typically I’m hired as a Lighting Technician but am starting to move towards a crew lead/master electrician role. I probably work on over 100 different productions yearly so the titles are always changing,” added Yakes, who has returned to JBHS to mentor students for recent large shows.

“No performing arts program, be it band, choir, or theater, can exist without a support crew. The people behind the scenes are the ones who literally  make these performances happen,” commented JBHS parent Scott Whitaker, whose sophomore son Connor started taking the class for the 2019-20 school year. “What is JBHS going to do to replace the kids in Tech Crew? Parent volunteers? Unlikely. Hire out? That would cost more than two teachers’ salaries.”

“Tech Crew is what motivates my son to do his best in school. I am truly afraid of what will happen if that is taken away,” continued Whitaker. “He struggles academically and is unlikely to attend any college or university. Tech Crew would give him a skill set that would allow him to enter a career right out of high school, especially in a city like Burbank where the entertainment industry is so pervasive.”

“The repercussions of eliminating Tech Crew goes well beyond cutting the budget,” Whitaker added. “It would essentially cripple JBHS performing arts programs and, for kids like my son, would do permanent damage to their ability to have a career out of high school.”

JBHS Tech Crew. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

“I joined the stage tech class my freshmen year after doing it at my middle school,” commented Burbank High sophomore Elen Vardanyan. “After experiencing the class last year, I decided I want to pursue something in the industry as a career and the class gave me opportunities to learn and experience how different shows were set up and ran. The class offered an experience I won’t be able to get anywhere else.”

“Students were allowed to work directly with the directors of each performing arts program and discuss what they wanted and figure out a plan that worked for everybody. I was planning to take the class for all four years of high school and I planned my schedules around the class,” Vardanyan continued. “I’ve been a student for over a decade and I’ve never felt more connected to a class and the students in the class and especially the teacher.”

“This class not only provided a fun work environment but it provided us with opportunities and real world experiences that would shape us to be our best selves the industry. For many of us it was a safe space where we could be ourselves and simply focus on what we loved to do without any judgment from anyone since we were all so similar,” Vardanyan added. “Our class worked like a well oiled machine and it’s very sad to think that my friends and I won’t be able to make any more memories in our favorite class.”

Burroughs senior Owen Chamberlain said, “Tech Crew made me more confident in myself. Tech Crew taught me how to work with people that I don’t get along with. Tech Crew taught me how to work hard. Like really hard. And it taught me to love to work. Tech Crew taught me how to juggle loads of responsibilities. Tech Crew taught me how to work calmly under pressure. Tech Crew taught me how to bounce back from mistakes. Tech Crew gave me unforgettable friends and memories. Tech Crew gave me loads of practical knowledge for various jobs. Tech Crew gave me direction in high school that I lacked before.”

BHS Stage Craft Tech class set building. (Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

“My son Robert is part of Tech Crew this year and it’s the best thing that has happened to him since he started going to school,” commented Burroughs parent William Roth, whose son is a sophomore. “The hard work and genuine hands on learning is something rare in this day and age. Even rarer still is the enthusiasm these kids bring to the program which has the spill over effect of also improving their other grades and general attitude about school in general. I am truly hoping that we can find a way to keep this program going not only for our kids in Tech Crew but for the wide ranging activities that they support on campus and off.”

“When I was going into high school I asked my dad what I should do in high school. I said that I wanted a small group of closely knit people that work really hard and he told me to join tech,” commented BHS ’18 graduate Aaron Wilson, who is currently a sophomore studying lighting design at California Institute of the Arts. “So I did it on a whim and I can’t imagine my life without it now.”

“I came into tech not really caring about school and just going to school cause I have to but tech changed that about me. I had a reason to get up and go to school and I was always excited to go to school. Well I was excited to get through the day and be in class at the end of the day,” he continued.

“I was never a good classroom learner and tech helped me calm down while also teaching me important skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. It taught me leadership and working with other people in stressful situations which now in college is extremely useful,” Wilson said. “Without tech I don’t think I would have a future because I didn’t see one for myself before tech.”

JBHS Stage Craft Technology in action. (Photo Courtesy Liz Bax)

Burbank High Stage Craft Technology teacher Broderick, who’s taught the class at BHS for the past five years, had this to say, “While the vast majority (64%) of Burbank voters supported the parcel tax that would have filled this gap and allowed the district to keep these programs, it was just shy of what was needed. In our district where entertainment is our leading industry, Stage Craft was recently added as a class to introduce students to jobs requiring creative problem solving, teamwork, empathy and openness to using new technology in creative ways.”

“Stagecraft students have learned to be the first team there, the last to leave, to help with anything, and they are the bright, creative problem solvers who you want to have your back,” Broderick added. “Exactly the type of people we need now as we shelter at home watching entertainment and media content to help in our current crisis. I wish the 3% of Burbank voters who could have made the difference in the parcel tax vote could have understood this.”

Burroughs High Stage Craft Technology teacher King shared some background on the development of the program at JBHS over many years: “Stagecraft was a section of a choir class that I coached starting in 2004. Mary Rago, the choir teacher, was not educated in stagecraft, so she hired me to teach the students about sound, lighting, and how to run a show. There were less than 10 students at the time, and they only worked on choir shows.”

“Each performing arts program had to fend for themselves for their events, and did not work together or share any equipment or resources. In 2008, Stagecraft became a separate class through the Regional Occupational Program (ROP), and enrollment numbers, along with our collaboration with the other performing arts programs, began to grow. At first classes met during period 0 and 1, but later I moved them to period 5 and 6 so that students could easily continue work in progress for after school rehearsals and shows. Now I have 52 students and we support events for Choir, Band, Drama, Dance, ASB, and other organizations both inside our theater and elsewhere.”

BHS Tech Crew prep for Dance performance, Fall 2019. (Photo Courtesy Karen Broderick)

“We collaborate with each other on shows and are able to invest in equipment that benefits all of us. My students earn double credit and put in at least 180 hours per semester (and sometimes upwards of 400 hours per semester) learning the trade and getting hands-on experience with professional equipment while helping these other programs excel,” King continued.

“Over 600 students from these other organizations will be directly impacted when there in no longer anyone to run their events behind the scenes, and thousands more will be negatively affected as the quality of over 50 events annually will decrease. Parents and boosters in these organizations may need to raise thousands of extra dollars to hire outside professionals to run these events, instead of saving that money or using it to provide more educational opportunities for the students.”

“Many of my students have gone on to careers in the entertainment industry, working for companies like Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal, and Marvel,” King also said. “It would be a shame if this career pathway ceased to exist for students like them in Burbank. I can only hope that the damage to Arts Education in the city is not too great.”

The Burbank Board of Education will discuss the Second Interim Budget on Thursday, April 16, at 7:00 p.m. More information will be forthcoming from the District about the meeting by Friday, April 10. Public comments should be mailed, emailed or phoned in by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15.

As this will be BUSD’s first virtual meeting, patience is requested by District officials. Live audio of the meeting is expected to be available via the Board of Education’s webpage, with the possibility of video as well. The agenda for April 16 should be posted online with the updated information by Friday, April 10.

Videos and agendas for past meetings are available on the Burbank Board of Education webpage as well. Email addresses for the Burbank Board of Education members are listed here. The mailing address for the Burbank Unified District office is 1900 W. Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA 91506 and the main number is 818-729-4400.

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