Opinion: Despite Cuts and Financial Woes, School Board Wants to Give Superintendent a Raise

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On this Thursday’s Board of Education agenda, I was amazed when I saw an item to give Burbank Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Matt Hill, a new contract with a raise that was retroactive to last school year.

While I do not know him very well personally, people tell me he’s a nice guy. And, while I appreciate and respect people’s opinions, this has nothing to do with him personally, but with a system that is set for failure. 

Let’s go back to when he was hired initially. The school board meeting that night was anything but calm with many questioning the fact that Hill had no experience as a superintendent or in administration. In fact, he never had worked in a school at any level. He was the Chief Strategy Officer in the Los Angeles Unified School District before coming to Burbank where he was involved with an iPad program that was contentious at best. He was brought in specifically for his business sense when the district was facing potential shortfalls. 

When he was hired, the following quote appeared in the Leader which said: “‘I can hardly tell you how disappointed I am in the board tonight for putting us and the community in this position,’ said Lori Adams, president of the Burbank Teachers’ Assn. during the public comment portion of the meeting.”

“Many teachers, along with parents, who filled council chambers Thursday night, spoke against Hill’s hiring, in part because he does not have any teaching experience or credentials. They also pointed to his role in a $130-million implementation of a student management system that failed at Los Angeles Unified, where he had two years remaining on his contract as LAUSD’s chief strategy officer, “ wrote Leader reporter Kelly Corrigan.

To this day, Hill has only received a 30-day emergency sub-credential in the Fall of 2021, which has expired. it is not known if he actually subbed for any classes during that time. 

On his District’s profile page, he says, “Burbank Unified will not be satisfied until we ensure 100% of our students graduate high school.” 

That rate is still at just over 95%, about the same as it was before he started.

What has happened since he was hired? There have been two failed attempts by the district at securing funds through a parcel tax. Measure QS failed in November 2018 and Measure I also failed in March  2020. It was thought at the time if they had put the measure on the November ballot instead of the March ballot because of a larger voter turnout, that it would have had a better chance of succeeding but the district did not want to wait and suffered the defeat. 

So Hill has really not lived up to expectations. You have to also look at the Board of Education. let’s go back did January 2, 2022, when a special meeting was called on the Sunday before the resumption of school for the spring semester. 

The meeting was called after a Facebook post that included three school board members talking about the need for it. Three Board members talking about school business together may have been a violation of the Brown Act.

That meeting was a waste of resources and finances with staff being brought in on a Sunday with no decisions being made the entire time. While other districts were having their students tested before returning to school, Burbank decided to do voluntary testing after students returned to school, and even then only about half of the students participated, with only 7188 student test results reported in a district that has an enrollment that has dwindled down to below 15,000. 

At that meeting, however, it was simple to see that there is a disconnect between Hill and some Board members and that Board members also were very abrupt with each other. I have heard that has not gotten better, but worse over time.

Both Hill and the Board are clever, however, as they have aligned an inner circle to support them. Promising the teachers union a 5% (and rightly deserved) raise has mellowed their relationship and brought them on board. At Thursday’s meeting, they are going to decide to give new contracts to four of his lieutenants as follows:

Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Sharon Cuseo: Base salary $185,729

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Debbie Kukta: Base salary $176,883

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sarah Niemann: Base salary $176,883

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. John Paramo: Base salary  $176,883

And all of these salaries are retroactive to the start of the 2021 school year which means they would get an immediate payout for the difference.

In the case of Debbie Kukta, she left her job as an elected City Treasurer for the City of Burbank to come work for the District as they were operating with a $3.5-million structural deficit at the time and BUSD was threatened with an intervention by the Los Angeles County Office of Education if things did not change. This happened under the watch of Hill and the School Board with Kukta working to correct finances.

But here is the real kicker, Hill is already under contract to District until June 30, 2023, and yet this new contract will pay him retroactively from the start of the school year in 2021. 

According to Transparent California, in 2020 Hill received $250,669.92 in salary and $63,380.55 in benefits which comes to $314,050.47. Compare that with Governor Gavin Newsom who made $196,164.62 and $278,560.74 with benefits.

The new retroactive contract calls for a base salary of $260,642.00 plus other benefits in a contract that is to expire in June of 2025, unless, of course, they decide once again to change that after a year or two.

A few of the principals I talked with also said they seldom see him at the school sites. In fact, it is hard to find Hill or his executive staff at just about any Burbank community function. You will, however, find the Police Command Staff, the Fire Command Staff, City Managers staff, and many other city leaders including Councilmembers. Really do you ever see anyone besides a Board member or two at any event in the City, which once again shows a disconnect? Although, (spoiler alert) there is an election coming up and suddenly they may become more public. 

So we have had to lay off people in the elementary schools in the areas of music and physical education but of course, we have money to give raises to the top administrators. What is the Board thinking?

And why can’t we honor the current contract for the money already promised? 

Paying that type of money to a superintendent of a 15,000-student school district compared to a Governor with one of the largest economies in the world does not make sense to me, as it should not to you as a voter and taxpayer. 

If we’re worried that he might leave without getting a new contract I am pretty sure we can find somebody with better overall qualifications who would love to have the job for the current money.

There are also a number of principals and vice-principals who are once again leaving the District. This seems to happen every year with some schools going through multiple principals. Remember back to the days when you went to school (especially in Burbank) and think about how many principals your school went through. You probably had only one in each level of school. 

Why has that changed?

I also have to mention the ‘banned books’ debacle that Hill instituted. Yes, the books were NOT banned but taken out of the curriculum and instead placed in the school libraries. Maybe instead of removing books from the reading list in the classroom, the better idea is to explain why the ‘N-word’ is so derogatory and offensive. That is called teaching. This action brought a lot of negative publicity to Burbank.

What have the ‘signature’, great moments been during his tenure?

Soon the pandemic money is going to run out and the District is going to hold open their pockets looking for money.  Instead of asking for help and bailouts, maybe they should consider tightening their belts now.

Not having forethought hurt many cities like Burbank about 25 years ago when city leaders wanted to keep employee unions happy and gave them the world, including retirement benefits. Later, they found out that the contracts were so lucrative that they could not fund all of the pensions down the line. 

Reforms were put into place and some cities went bankrupt. Burbank put a plan in place and it’s still making now budgeted payments to fund those pensions. 

Of course, all of those elected officials who negotiated those contracts back in the day are all gone and now we are cleaning up the mess.

What kind of a mess is our Board of Education now leaving for us to clean up down the line?

Also, why now? Not only with time left on his contract but at the end of a school year when people have their attention going in five directions.

It seems like they are taking the direction of the Federal Government when they do a ‘document dump’ of release late on Friday when hopefully no one notices.

Well, we are noticing.

The school board will decide on the contract tomorrow night, at the Thursday, May 5 Burbank Board of Education meeting.

It’s time for everyone to pay attention and ask questions. Don’t let officials tell you that there is nothing to see here and move on.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hello fellow Burbankers.

    Be mindful of the current BUSD leadership. Dr. Hill is not a resident of Burbank and the two attempts to pass a parcel tax were very divisive for Burbank. An unbalanced budget will result in an attempt to raise taxes again. Property owners are always the first, and easiest place to go because we aren’t going to simply protest by not paying…they’ll take our house away. But what is deeply concerning about tax increases to me is they don’t address the reality that something has to be cut to bring matters under control.

    Perhaps you have ideas?

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