Editors Note: After deciding not to endorse any candidates, it was decided instead to ask some of the tough questions that would have be dealt with during the next four years. Some of these questions were sent in by readers and others picked by our staff. All of the candidates were given a week after having the questions emailed to them. They have been re-posted in their entirety without any editing whatsoever. Please take what these candidates say seriously. Whatever, it is now up to you to decide.
Note 2 – Larry Applebaum’s and Charlene Tabet’s answers were received late, but have been included – it is important that all candidates have an opportunity to have their positions read.
Burbank Board of Education Race
Candidates Larry Applebaum, David Dobson, Steve Ferguson and Charlene Tabet were asked the following questions:
Do you support converting any of Burbank’s existing public schools into charters schools or authorizing new charter schools to open in Burbank? If so, which schools should be affected and what factors would you consider in selecting charter operators?
I do not support converting any of our existing schools into charters nor the privatization of any of our schools. Charters most commonly form out of schools that have struggled to perform up to expectations. Burbank schools have consistently been performing well, with API score gains continuing to occur in-spite of some of the severest budget cuts this district has ever experienced occurring over the last 5 years. The one charter operator that Burbank authorizes, Options for Youth, serves to educate a population of students that both our comprehensive and alternative sites are not able to adequately serve, such as children whom work in film or TV and can’t get to our schools on a daily basis, for example.
Our schools are not failing. We are struggling, like most districts in the state, but we are still providing a good education to our students. Charter Schools don’t solve our problems, so I do not support converting any of our schools to Charters.
Absolutely not. The Burbank Unified School District is succeeding in its mission of providing a well-rounded, high-quality, education to our students there is no need for any more charter schools in Burbank.
However, while there may not be an interest or need to convert our schools to charters, we must not forget that education is a multi-billion dollar industry that many would seek to profit from. The involvement of Michelle Rhee’s pro-charter school political action committee in support of Char Tabet and David Dobson should be treated as a threat to our district’s autonomy and future.
I don’t see a need to convert any of Burbank’s existing school into Charter Schools nor at this time do I see a need to open a new Charter school in Burbank. Our schools, due to the support of Administrators and Teachers, Parents and the community already have in place what Charter Schools in other communities provide. Our schools provide and outstanding balance of academic and life-long learning.
As for teachers, talk about if you support eliminating or altering teacher tenure rules? If so, what would you change? Do you support eliminating or altering seniority-based layoffs for teachers? Do you support differentiated pay for teachers based on their performance?
Teacher tenure in and of itself is not the real problem. I do support teacher evaluations that include as a component student outcomes as a means to identify the best teachers and as well as those that are consistently weak in this area. I believe most teachers agree that a teacher who consistently produces students with poor outcomes needs to be provided appropriate professional development and support, but when all else has been tried, that we should then be able to move to an expedited dismissal. Our students deserve no less than the best teaching possible and the vast majority of teachers in our district meet that standard. The few that don’t should be given the help needed to improve and if they don’t improve, be shown the door. Qualitative teacher evaluations should also play a part in the determination of who gets laid off should that become necessary. Too often, in my experience, we were forced to keep teachers because of seniority rules, in lieu of teachers with less seniority who consistently had demonstrated superior classroom performance and student outcomes. I believe that this will be a very difficult item to change, however, as state law supports the seniority based systems we currently have in place. Differential pay is also a very tricky area to broach in education. I think a more realistic system which might be supported at all levels in the future would be performance bonuses based on well established, measurable (not subjective) criterion that would give every teacher at every grade level and/or subject area an opportunity to reasonably achieve the success needed to earn the bonus. Until we get our teachers back to what they earned prior to the economic downturn, however, I don’t think that we can even entertain a discussion like this.
All of these issues are negotiated. The board can not unilaterally change any of them. Tenure and Seniority are issues involving job security for teachers. I do not have a problem with these provisions in principle. However, in extreme cases, these rules can result in bad outcomes for students. Identifying the extreme cases and reconsidering some of the contract provisions in that light might be in everyone’s best interests. Differentiated pay is another contract issue and we already have different pay scales for teachers hired before and after July 1, 2005. Different pay for performance of course begs the question, how do we judge performance? Rewarding good teachers sounds like a great idea, I would love to offer that to them, but where does the money come from, who decides and what are the criteria used in making that determination? The idea is an end run around these difficult questions and without support from teachers on all these issues, I don’t see this happening and would not put energy into making it happen. Burbank teachers, from my experience, are mostly really good.
I do not support eliminating or altering teacher tenure rules. I do not support eliminating or altering seniority-based layoffs and I do not support merit pay.
All too often all these protections for teachers are portrayed as bad things which only protect bad teachers, and that is simply not the case. Education, in the State of California, is inherently political. Tenure allows teachers to be free from political influence and intimidation when asked to teach difficult or controversial concepts and it also allows our teachers to have free discussions among their academic learning community without fear of retribution or consequence.
While there is no doubt that teachers who are new to a district may bring new methods, enthusiasm and energy. Teachers who have a longer history with the district often carry great experience and institutional knowledge that must also be respected and valued.
Lastly, I am opposed to merit pay for teachers because I have great concerns over how it would be implemented as I believe our district does not have the manpower or system in place to implement merit pay objectively. I also think merit pay sends the wrong message about education. Teachers should be motivated by raising student achievement levels and seeing their students succeed, not by a paycheck.
I don’t have any plans to eliminate or alter teacher tenure rules, eliminating or altering seniority based layoffs or differentiated pay for teachers. Although as a parent I know how frustrating it can be when your child doesn’t have the teacher who gives his/her all like most of our Burbank teachers do. As a teacher, I know how frustrating it can be when one of your colleagues doesn’t do his/her job as well as they should. I would like to work with teachers, administrators, and experts in the field of personnel evaluations to explore options. One thing I do know is that even though we push the theory of becoming lifelong learners to our students, we do very little to reward or compensate those teachers appropriately who have gone on to further their education. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when our teachers are the ones who make the most impact on our students. It seems we should have a better way to compensate them for their work.
With Measure S passing, there will soon be $110 million available. What is the most immediate need to be addressed first? What new technology do you support for Burbank students? Do you think some of the money should be put away for future use as technology changes in the next 20 years?
Measure S authorizes the District to sell up to $110 million dollars worth of bonds, but our first issuance of bonds will be most likely in the $35-40 million dollar range, an ambitious amount to be sure. State of California rules regarding bond funds stipulate that at least 85% of the funds be spent within 3 years with the remaining amount already designated for use, although work might not be completed. That being said, I believe the first projects we tackle need to be those involving safety and security, including cracked asphalt that creates serious trip and fall hazards, breaches in fencing caused by advanced age, and improved security at all school entrances. I also would like to see the auditoriums and gymnasiums that do not have air conditioning have that installed. Unfortunately, none of these types of projects happen overnight, and District staff is currently working on plans that will allow us to begin the job of addressing these needs, realizing that this work will be accomplished over a number of years. I also would like to see us immediately begin a program to install LED lighting in place of existing florescent tubes, something that would begin to provide utility bill relief freeing up general fund dollars that can then be used for other district needs. While our staff and teachers work to identify the technology that needs to be included in a 21st century classroom, we need to move forward with installing necessary technology infrastructure in our schools, including improving network switches, installing WiFi school-wide and reconfiguring signal routing to assist in improving connectivity and expanding bandwidth. We must have this backbone in place before individual student devices are begun to be piloted in any of our schools. None of the bond dollars can be “put away” for the future, but I do support the establishment of a technology sinking fund that is used to pay for upgrades and refresh of our equipment over time. The BUSD Technology Department is working to create a plan and establish an amount that will need to be contributed from the general fund annually to accomplish this goal.
We have an obligation to make the most of the Bond money and to recognize always that it as an investment in our schools by our community. We need to prioritize projects in a open and transparent way. We need to first fix what is broken – but not overlook larger improvements that might be part of the repair. Then we need to prioritize projects that will reduce future costs, like upgrading to dual pane windows and lower voltage lighting to reduce electricity usage and adding solar where ever possible – possibly creating a revenue stream in the summer when schools are closed, but the panels are producing needed green electricity for the city.
The main technological upgrades need to be to our network infrastructure. We also need more computer labs, with standardized systems to reduce replacement and maintenance costs. Classroom computers for teachers need to be upgraded to allow them to use online resources and to take advantage of software to reduce their administrative time. Tablets for e-books are a great idea, and we might save a lot if we allow those families who have their own to bring them and use them for school. Smart investments in technology ought to produce savings in the long run that can be used for long term maintenance. I don’t think we are allowed to put any Bond Money aside for future use (if we are than I would support it,) but the district will certainly have to make provisions for making future repairs, upgrades and replacement to all our technology. It will become a regular part of all future budgets and preparing for 5 and 10 year replacement cycles makes good sense.
Measure S was marketed with the slogan “Safe Schools” and I believe priority one should fulfill that promise. I support a comprehensive safety assessment that will detail which projects should be focused on.
What will also weigh heavily on my decision-making, when it comes to bond project prioritization, will be classroom impact. I was a student during site construction and I know how distracting and frustrating construction can be. Projects that will have major impacts on the quality of learning should be scheduled for the summer months, if at all possible.
As for the technology component, I support replacing the districts aging technology that we have in place. I am not opposed to acquiring new technology, but we must acknowledge that the acquisition of new technology obligates the district to future general fund spending. I will not support purchasing new technology today that the district will not be able to afford to maintain in the future.
Modernizing our existing technological infrastructure will allow us to expand program offerings and allow for more exposure to technology and new software systems which compliment lesson plans in our classrooms.
Lastly, I would love to put bond money away for technology needs and maintenance in the future. However, that is not allowed as bond money must be spent in a time certain from its issuance.
First it’s important I believe to not look at this bond passage as being similar to the last one that was passed. We are at a completely different impasse and need to come at this bond money completely differently. Each school site has already targeted needed repairs and those should start immediately. We don’t have to do one school site at a time because the repair work has already been laid out prior to the passage of the bond. Let’s get working on those repairs! Secondly, also noted for each school site was what was needed to add additional security. Again, lets get working on those. We don’t need to waste time figuring out what needs to be done, the target areas that need work have already been noted in a previous security assessment plan that has a quality baseline to start from.
As far as technology, we are behind the rest of the world. We have two issues with technology: how do we prepare our students for the current technology in the job market after high school and how do get ready to implement technology in our school curriculum especially with Common Core assessments being internet based? The first issue we can look towards our business community right here in Burbank to see how we can partner and use their expertise in understanding what our students need. The second issue is to work with our teachers to not only understand what the state will be asking of us in regards to technology standards and common core, but how they see utilizing technology in our classrooms. We need to make sure our schools and our students are ready for whatever and wherever their paths take them.
Budgets for extracurricular activities such as sports and vocal music associations have been drastically cut over the years and now with the current ACLU law being enacted, programs are not allowed to charge any fees to students and any fundraising must be voluntary. How should these programs be funded or do you think they should be cut back?
I do not believe we should be cutting back on any of the extracurricular activities and should always be looking for new ones to offer our diverse population of students. That being said, any activity that has associated costs and expenses needs to be able to demonstrate that it has an achievable plan in place to fundraise the required dollars needed that includes a provision to support the inclusion of every student that wants to participate, assuming they meet whatever non-financial criterion that allows one to qualify for participation is met. BUSD has worked very hard to modify many of our existing programs to meet these new funding requirements and to insure that everyone understands what can and can’t be done vis-a-vis asking for funds to participate. I think that the more programs we offer, however, the harder it will be for all of them to co-exist, give the limited capacity of the broader community beyond parents to fully fund these activities. Parents will have to become more efficient fundraisers to maintain the same level of quality in some of our programs, like vocal music and varsity athletics, but have already demonstrated that they have the capacity to change the way they do business in a manner that allows these programs to continue to flourish. Unfortunately, I do not see a way for the district to contribute any greater resources to any of these programs in the near term, and believe we are a long way off from righting the district ship. Any discussion of additional district funding will have to wait for that day to come.
Of course it was always the case that we were not allowed to charge fees for these activities. The ACLU case just changed the language we used to ask for money. These programs will continue to be funded by voluntary contributions from parents able and willing to do so and booster clubs will continue to make sure that every student who wants to be a part of these activities will be able to or the activities will be reduced or cut. It would be wonderful if these programs were once again part of the districts regular budget and boosters were adding additional value. Other sources of revenue, grants for instance, can be pursued, but each year the money will have to be raised one way or another or the programs will not exist. I do think the district should make it a priority to maintain the teachers and staff necessary so long as an active Booster exists to support a program.
Many extracurricular programs including sports and on-campus student associations are what keeps many students from dropping out. These programs should continue to be funded at their current level. That means continued reliance on our student governments and community-based fundraising will have to continue as district funds on their own cannot sustain all programming.
In my perfect budgetary world, all of the extra curricular activities and sports would have huge budgets. Why? Because these activities is where our kids learn the lessons of life. Competition. Working with a group towards a goal. Practice. Hard Work. Payoff. These areas are where our kids make memories that they carry with them for years to come. Outdoor Science Camp, field trips, sports teams, art classes, photography classes, Culinary arts. and the list goes on.
Our children are so fortunate here in Burbank to have the support of parents who make sure that there is money to support the extras. I would do everything that I can to make sure these programs stay in our schools. and make them fair and accessible to all as required by law. And for now, while we are still suffering with a reduced budget we are going to have to continue to count on parent and community support of these activities.
What is your vision for the district in the next four years? Are the hardest times behind us or are there serious budget challenges ahead? What is it you bring that can make a difference in Burbank?
I have a very hopeful vision for our district over the next four years. While it will take some time for the economy to attain the robust growth it once had, I believe the outlook for improved state revenues is very real. That being said, I think it will take all of that time to get us back to the level of funding we had in 2007-08, the bellwether year of funding over the last couple of decades. Careful management of our funds will continue to be critical, as we work towards eliminating our $4 million dollar plus structural deficit, while working to restore salary and benefit levels to the pre-recession levels for district employees. Measure S will provide important funding opportunities to pay for infrastructure improvements that will lead to general fund savings; savings that can be used for a variety of purposes including expanding programs and reducing class sizes. The Board will need to determine what the optimal class size is for our K-3 students, then put in place a plan that moves us toward that goal over time and provides for the necessary facilities and staffing to achieve that vision. Academically, we need to continue to improve the outcomes of students in our socioeconomically disadvantaged, English language learner, and Special Education student sub-groups, while assuring that our other students continue to show improvement and are afforded the variety of classes that will lead to success after graduation, regardless of what path they may take after high school. My years of experience on the Board during extremely challenging economic times, plus my real world experience in the electronics and construction arenas, give me a unique perspective through which to view, and will allow me to assist the District toward the best possible decision making in a number of areas. Likewise, I remain committed to my vision of expanding student exposure to instructional technology in the classroom, providing all elementary students with a real curricular exposure to foreign language learning, and a continuing support of our music and arts programs in the District, including diligently working towards full implementation of our 10-year Arts for All plan.
I do not think the hardest times are behind us yet. I think the current board has done a fine job of stretching the reserve to try to wait out the recession, but I think the recession has lasted longer and will recover too slowly and that our ability to deficit spend will come to an end before the economy recovers. Add to that the governors proposed new rules regarding the allocation of funds and I see us having to make many more serious and painful cuts in the next four years. How do we cut $4 million from our budget? Or even 2? Furthermore, the way our society has come to view education in general has changed and I am not convinced that should the economy turn around, schools will see much of an increase in funding beyond cost of living increases for employees.
We have done education the same way for a very long time. That system hasn’t failed, we simply have stopped funding it. But if that is the new reality, what are we doing to face it? Nothing. I would like to see that question put to a group of our own teachers and principals and administrators and the public. What does a classroom of 40 or 50 students look like. How do we make that work? Or do we even use that model? I don’t claim to have a plan for what that looks like, I just know we have smart, capable, caring people working in this district who, if you put the problem to them, can solve it. If the money comes back, then it’s easy, but we have to ask the hard questions, we’d be foolish not to. At the end of 4 years, I’d like to see the district solvent and on the road to creating a system that accounts for our new reality, that works for students, teachers, parents and Burbank. Not reform, something different, something new. Something that includes new technology and arts in all aspects of education, with more integration and sharing of resources with the community and the city, with better outreach and a renewed respect for the education system in general. Where the promise that every child shall have the opportunity to reach their potential is met.
Failing that, I will not bother to run again.
I believe that the next four years bring significant challenges for our district. However, I believe that we are more than capable of rising to meet these challenges. The passage of Measure S means that the board must provide thorough oversight of the expenditure of over $110 million dollars. That oversight, matched with resolving the district’s $4 million reoccurring structural deficit will require a great deal of patience, time and a renewed commitment to communication with members of this community and with our district’s bargaining groups.
Whatever challenges we face, we cannot overcome them without collaboration. I have successfully built coalitions throughout my entire life, and as a result, I’ve been a part of accomplishing some pretty incredible things in my relatively short time in this world.
My commitment to raising student achievement levels in this district is unyielding and I know I will bring a new perspective and energy to this school board that has never been seen before.
While I think the hardest times are behind us, I don’t think we are where we can relax yet. Our school board still needs to remain conservative in their spending, making sure that we can continue to bring quality education to our students without needs for further cuts. We are deficit spending now and the money taken from us by the state is not coming back. We will need to assess where Prop 30 takes us and what we can do to maximize that funding to sustain what we provide.
I believe my experience as a leader in PTA and as a property owner will enable me to understand the budgets and be able to make important decisions for our district. I believe that my experience as a classroom teacher will enable me to make decisions, knowing how that decision will affect those in the classroom every day in addition to understanding how it will also affect our students and parents as well. I have a very varied background with an ability to see the big picture, ask the tough questions, and also solicit help from our community to come up with quality and transparent solutions. In my 48 years of living in the community and my diverse background in volunteerism, education and experience show that I am committed to working together with all stakeholders to provide for our students.