Tag Archives: Burbank Unified School District

Burbank Board Of Education Set To Discuss Reopening Plan, Budget Concerns

The Burbank Board of Education holds a virtual meeting on Thursday evening, July 16, to discuss the School Reopening Plan for the 2020-21 academic year, along with other policies, regulations and budgetary resolutions.

The school board meeting continues to follow social distancing measures and safety guidelines, and is viewable online here. The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m.

For a link to the agenda packet, please visit this webpage.

BUSD has received a few comments from stakeholders requesting to make their comments live, rather than having District personnel collect them ahead of time and read them to the Board. So, the Zoom application will be utilized to allow public speakers to speak directly to the Board for the July 16 meeting, according to Kimberley Clark, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent.

Those who wish to make a public comment via the Zoom app must follow specific directions:

  1. Public Speakers please email Kimberley Clark at kimberleyclark@burbankusd.org no later than 45 minutes prior to the start of the public meeting (before 6:15 p.m.) stating your full name and the topic you wish to speak about.
  2. Speakers are asked to log into the Board meeting virtually through the Zoom invitation no later than 6.45 p.m. The meeting will open at 6:00 p.m. and will be locked at 6:45 p.m. promptly. Please note that only those individuals who have emailed Kimberley Clark prior to 6:15 p.m. will be allowed to enter the Zoom meeting. Upon receipt of an email request, the Zoom meeting login details will be emailed to each individual speaker. Speakers should rename their Zoom profile to indicate their real name to expedite this process.
  3. When it is time for a speaker to address the Board, the speaker’s name will be called and the microphone on the Zoom account will be activated. Speakers must be present in the Zoom meeting when their name is called in order to be given an opportunity to address the Board. Speakers are also requested to state their name prior to addressing the Board.
  4. After a speaker completes their public comment or if the five-minute (5) time limit has been reached, the microphone for the speaker’s Zoom profile will be muted.
  5. The Zoom meeting will be closed following the Public Communications portion of the meeting.

For those who aren’t able to use the Zoom app to make a public comment to the Board, comments and questions may be mailed to the Reopening School Committee at Re-openingSchool@burbankusd.org.

According to a press release sent out by BUSD, the Board of Education meeting will discuss the following:

  • Report on School Reopening Plan for the 2020-2021 School Year (Please note that the Learning Model Selection deadline has been extended until Friday, July 17.)
  • First Reading of Proposed Revision of Selected Board Policies and Administrative Regulations (BP 0415, Equity, revised to include anti-racism policy language)
  • Adoption of Resolution 1 Approving Support for Funding for Schools and Communities Act
  • Adoption of Resolution 2 for the Elimination or Reduction of Services for Classified Positions
  • Adoption of Resolution 3 for the Elimination or Reduction of Services for Certificated Children’s Center Positions
  • Approval of Holding Fees for Horace Mann, Monterey Infant Center, and Around the Bell Child Care Programs
  • Consent Agenda

Burbank Unified Superintendent’s Update Addresses Budget, Reopening Concerns

In his weekly Thursday evening email home to parents, caregivers and staff of the Burbank Unified School District, Superintendent Matt Hill noted some positive progress regarding the school budget for the 20-21 school year, as well as recent developments with the Reopening Committee regarding the upcoming school year.

Hill noted, in the email sent on Thursday, June 25, that while the proposed 10% cut the schools were initially facing from the State government has been taken off the table, BUSD still faces a lack of adequate funding. He encouraged continued advocacy with federal government representatives to “approve a stimulus package that focuses on safely reopening schools in August.”

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District

Additionally, the Reopening Committee has a survey, which the caregivers for every student are requested to fill out. The survey closes on Friday, June 26.

The survey is non-binding, meaning the committee seeks to gauge interest between the two models they are considering, but students are not locked in to choosing the specific educational model at this time. Once BUSD has clearer orders from county officials regarding safely opening, a different survey will be sent in mid-July for families to choose from the two models being considered.

Currently , the Reopening Committee is looking at offering 100% distance learning or a hybrid model for the 20-21 school year. The hybrid model would divide schools into two groups, each of which would attend either a morning or afternoon session at school from Monday through Thursday, with Fridays remaining a distance learning day for all.

There is a link in the email for a FAQ which addresses most of the parent and caregivers’ questions and concerns that BUSD has received.

From the Thursday, June 25, Superintendent’s Update:

Budget Update

Thank you for your advocacy! Governor Newsom and our legislature have reached a budget deal which they will finalize by June 30. What we know is that it prevents the drastic 10% in cuts facing our schools, but it is still lacking in adequate funding for schools. We must continue to advocate at the federal level for the Senate and the President to approve a stimulus package that focuses on safely reopening schools in August. The fight is not over yet. In the meantime, we are able to move forward cautiously within our budget and will not lay off individuals at this time. We will continue to freeze and review all vacant positions as well as non-labor expenses as we prepare for the challenging financial times ahead of us. We will also continue the conversation of increasing fees at Horace Mann and/or issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for another quality child care provider to take over some or all of the child care program in order to continue to provide child care at Horace Mann.

Reopening of School 2020-21

The Reopening Committee continues to collaborate and review feedback from parents and employees to develop the best instructional models for the Fall. We have created the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) https://www.burbankusd.org/reopeningfaqs based on your emails. This is a living document and will be updated based on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Orders for education, which are expected to be released soon. Please be advised that many of these items listed in the Frequently Asked Questions are subject to negotiations with the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA) and the California School Employees Association (CSEA).

One main question that we have been receiving at this time is:

Why is the Committee recommending the AM/PM model? There has been a great deal of discussion and the consensus for elementary and middle school is that there is a need to have regular (Monday-Thursday) instructional interactions for the students. This is especially true for students in special populations. Additionally, we are also trying to avoid having large numbers of students together at lunch, which could increase the risk of sickness for both students and staff. With regard to child care, the feedback is mixed. We have heard that some would prefer a more regular schedule instead of an alternating or a two-day schedule. There are no perfect schedules but we are trying to work together to create the safest and most optimum learning environment that we can in a timely manner. We know that employees want to know what to expect as do parents and students. We will continue to meet with our employees to determine what is the best model for this time. We realize that none of the hybrid models are ideal, but we are working to mitigate the issues.

Current information is available on this website https://www.burbankusd.org/Reopening. You may also email your comments to re-opening@burbankusd.org.

If you have not done so already, please complete the following survey by Friday, June 26 to help with our planning. This is a non-binding survey, we will send another survey in mid-July to select your school model for the fall once we have clearer Health Orders and more specifics about our instructional models.

Elementary Survey (English)

Secondary Survey (English)

By continuing to work together, we will build a stronger BUSD.

Burbank Unified Talk Budget Reductions to Programs, Services, Staff

Over $13 million.

That is the amount of funding that has to be identified by the Burbank Unified School District for the upcoming school year’s budget to be reduced by June 18 for the 2020-21 school year.

Continued pension payments, rising costs, and the unexpected crisis caused by the pandemic with a possible cut in State funding have caused this upcoming deficit. The recent Measure I that was defeated was hoped to have saved many of these reductions to the budget.

During the virtual meeting held Tuesday night, each area of the budget was brought up with district staff trying to identify parts that may be cut back. In some instances, programs that had been implemented in the past five years would be cut or brought back to the level of five years ago.

While the cutting of some programs is on the table, one of the discussions was personal. The question is whether to let people go or keep them on board with lower hours. Many of these discussions would have to go through the unions before changes could be made.

One of the problems discussed with letting staff go is what would happen if State funding were to improve in a few months after canceling programs and letting people go. Would it even be possible to bring people back or would the workforce be scarce?

Many of the core budgets proposed sound dire. Elimination of the elementary school music programs, taking away physical education assistants for elementary teachers which means teachers would have to take on the added responsibility. These all must be decided upon in the next couple of weeks.

One of the subjects that came up was surplus properties. Two that were identified were a house by Burroughs High and a parking lot near the Police and Fire Headquarters. Board members were very reluctant to sell these properties because of the fact once they were gone, they would not be able to get them back. What the properties were worth was not know at the time.

Even attendance was brought up and one idea thrown out to the group would be to hold Saturday School for students who missed a day of the week. One aspect of school funding is what some have described as ‘butts in the seats’, which means the district receives funds for every student in attendance on any given day. By having students come back on Saturday if they missed a day, would have that funding restored. A larger question should be, why are districts not funded through district-wide enrollment instead of daily attendance?

While the status of Horace Mann was on the list, there was not much discussion about the child care facility except for many passionate emails read during oral communications.

“These are devastating”, said Dr. Matt Hill, Supertientient as he went item through item. He also said that anyone who has ideas is welcome to email him with suggestions or ideas. He can be reached at matthill@burbankusd.org

The next study session will be held on June 10 which will be roughly one week before final decisions have to be made. No decision has been made on any item yet so public input is important.

Every Board Member felt the weight and the gravity of the situation heavily.



BUSD to Hold Special Budget Study Meeting Tuesday: Goodbye Horace Mann?

Burbank’s School Board will meet Tuesday in a Special Session to discuss the looming budget cuts because of the defeat of the Measure I Parcel Tax. Voters nearly turned down the with the Measure getting on 64% in YES votes with 66% needed to pass.

Tuesday it is time for the other shoe to drop and not only the realization of not getting new money, but with the new possibility of some funding being cut from the State because of the Coronavivus pandemic which has crippled the State’s budget, Burbank has to start making some tough decisions.

There are many programs on the chopping block as well as district jobs. Here are some of the items that will be discussed:

  • Library Assistants cut by half
  • High school summer school
  • Middle and high school counselor cuts
  • PS Assistants
  • Elementary music teachers
  • Arts and Instructional Technology Coordinators
  • Closing of Horace Mann
  • Reduce graduation requirements (electives)
  • Increase class size
  • Selling surplus property

These are only a few of the considerations that will be discussed.

There was nothing in the report about reducing or cutting district staff or any pay reductions.

Tuesday’s meeting will be virtual and unlike the City Council meeting that allows live phone oral communications, all communications must be received by the Board before 5 pm on Monday. The Board of Education will accept public communications via email at rosegarcia@burbankusd.org and /or by voicemail at (818) 729-4584, no later than 5:00 p.m., May 25, 2020. Comments will be read during Public Comment followed by staff and Board responses.

A full list of the proposed budget cuts for adoption and discussion can be found HERE. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 pm. You will be able to watch the meeting streamed from HERE live.


Substitutes Left Out Of Teacher’s Compensation Seek Support

Burbank substitute teachers have started a petition, to date it has 1,377 signatures, to bring awareness and support for their efforts to convince the Burbank Unified School District [BUSD] to continue compensating them during the  COVID-19 Burbank school shutdown.

The BUSD board voted March 16 to close all Burbank schools and continue classes on-line due to fear of the COVID-19 virus infecting school children. An order from Governor Newsom declared that school employees would be paid during the closure; however, substitute teachers were not included in the governor’s order. Substitutes have written Governor Newsom asking him to earmark funds for the district to pay substitute teachers during the shutdown.

Furloughed employees who will continue to be compensated by the district include contractual workers, hourly and salaried employees. The school district has made exceptions for long term substitute teachers of record to continue teaching their classes online. Day to day substitutes will be trained for on-line instruction, so they may substitute when a teacher requires a day off.

In an email to the substitute teachers, BUSD Board President Armond Aghakhanian explained substitutes could not be paid out of the district budget due to the failure of Measure I. The parcel tax to raise revenue for the district’s budget was defeated in March. School Superintendent Matt Hill said the district is in a deficit, has no reserves and the state may be cutting next year’s budget.

The state advised the district to save their money; therefore, the subs will not be compensated from this year’s remaining substitute budget. Hill advised the teachers to apply for unemployment insurance [UI]. Substitute teachers normally do not qualify for unemployment, but under the new EDD Coronavirus  rules, workers no longer employed due to their employer shutting down because of the virus, qualify for unemployment compensation. Additionally, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance [PUA], which is part of the federal Coronavirus economic relief CARES Act will add an extra $600 to qualifying UI claims.

Hill said substitutes lack of compensation during the school closings is a statewide issue.

School Board Votes 5-0 to Close Burbank Schools

In an emergency meeting of the Burbank Unified School District Board, the board decided to close all City of Burbank schools starting Monday, March 16, through 27.

The unanimous decision to cancel all instruction for the week and close the schools was a response to the Coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic.

“We’ve been exploring options here in Burbank,” said School Superintendent Matt Hill. “Given the situation, the governor’s proclamation, as well as advise from the county [health department], we’re moving toward closure.” 

During the two week Spring Break, the board will work to develop options for the students and parents. Online classes, packets of work, or learning centers were discussed during the session.

Parents in attendance voiced their concerns over the methods that will be offered as alternative instruction. Jasmin Stewart-Harbin’s nine year old son has autism and is enrolled in LEAP, a special eduction program for autistic students.

 “Since there is not going to be any school, I was wondering what is going to happen to our children,” said Stewart-Harbin. “Some of the children are not tech savvy to work independently. A lot of the parents aren’t trained to teach their children.”

Stewart-Harbin suggested video conferencing classes would be a good way to keep the LEAP students in visual contact with their teachers. 

The schools are schedule to reopen on March 27; however, the date could be rescheduled.

“Everything is changing day by day,” said Hill. “We are following the advice of the department of health.”

Information on the school closings can be found on the school district website.


State of the Schools Address Puts a Scary Reality Center Stage

It’s the calm before the storm for Burbank schools.

Dr. Matt Hill, Superintendent, Burbank Unified School District. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Burbank Unified School Superintendent Dr. Matt Hill gave his address of the State of the Schools address to a packed house at the Castaway restaurant Wednesday morning, February 19 and put on by Burbank Educational Foundation.

The beginning of the speech is much like Burroughs High School Jazz Band led by Taylor Arakelian and the national anthem sung by talented Burbank High School Sirens, who get all the notes brilliantly.

Dr. Hill talked about all the positives in the schools including that all elementary, middle and high schools have all been classified as a distinguished within California and people in Burbank have begun taking that for granted because of the quality of our schools.

And while the public is taken it for granted in recent years the reasons for the honors are about to fade away in budget cuts which mean having our schools recognized in the future may become problematic. After the parcel tax failed last year schools were forced to make $3.5 million in cuts. Without the passage of Measure I, the schools will need to cut an additional $3.6 million from the upcoming budget.

Burbank High School Sirens. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

What will it mean for schools? Along with the first cuts made this past year you will now look at increased class sizes along with the possibility of ending elementary music, middle and high school arts, the GATE program which is the Gifted and Talented Education program, elementary schools and programs, middle school Spanish courses and technology support in the district

Currently, the average school district received $12,000 per student compared to $10,000 per student that the Burbank district receives. As a comparison, Burbank receives $574 less per student than Glendale. Since the district is mandated by state law to have a balanced budget every year cuts need to be made for additional revenue that needs to be found. This is why Measure I is so important to the schools in the future of Burbank.

What was made very clear to the people in attendance is that unless Measure I passes, the schools that people have moved to Burbank for will never look the same. It has been said time and time again that one of the attractions of living a Burbank is the school system.

Ana Connell President, Burbank Educational Foundation.(Photo by Ross A Benson)

When you look at the evolution of schools from the days that they used to prepare students for jobs at Lockheed to now, when there are so many jobs in the entertainment field that need to be filled, we’ll see how Burbank schools have adjusted to give their students a chance at high paying quality jobs. The very future health of the school district is at stake.

Ana Connell of the Burbank Educational Foundation ended the morning by stressing the importance of not only voting for the measure, but getting your neighbors out to do the same on March 3. Organizations like the Burbank Educational Foundation and Burbank Arts For All can only supplement minor areas. They will never be able to make up for the majority of funding that will be lost.

myBurbank’s Position on Measure I: VOTE YES

Vote YES on Measure I. 

And then demand that the Burbank Unified School District “Take It To 10” for every Burbank public school.  Ten years ago, the average school rating was about 6.  Now it’s around 8, with Burroughs High rated 8 and Burbank High rated 9.

Better yet, demand it in the coming weeks and informational meetings leading to March 3, listen to the District’s response, and then cast your vote.

What does a “10” District do?  It substantially increases the odds teenagers will launch into adulthood sooner rather than later, that they’ll have the skills to pay the bills, and a life enriched by art.  Your sons and daughters are less likely to be debt slaves, whether from college or from unwisely using the plastic. They’re less likely to delay having a family because of finances.  And parents have much less reason to shell out $15,000+ annually for a private school, or to attempt home schooling.

We’re not expecting the District to produce 10’s across the board overnight.  It will probably take five or so years, the way it did when the District schools moved from 6 to 8.  But residents and businesses should be able to see visible progress year after year.

The nearby La Canada School District has all of  four its schools rated 10. According to niche.com, LCSD is nearly in the top 1% of all school districts in the U.S.  (111th  best of 10,782 districts.)  They’re within the top 2% of school districts in California (9th best out of 487 districts.)  In contrast, our District is within the top 9% nationally (934th out of 10,782 districts) and just within the top sixth of school districts within California (80th out of 487 districts.) 

Our District also has 22 schools to contend with, not four. And Niche.com does give the District an overall rating of A, with an A- for academics, an A for teachers and an A+ for college prep.  Without Measure I, these ratings are likely to slip as arts, music and sports programs take budget hits.  

Two weeks ago we sat down with Burbank High Principal Dr. Thomas Crowther and Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Dr. Oscar Macias.  They told us about teachers who had been through Burbank schools, or had taught more than one family generation of Burbank students.  They told us about teachers who often dig into their own pockets to purchase supplies, who go the extra mile for their students in countless ways. (“But we do our best to reimburse at least a portion of those expenses,” interjects Dr. Macias.)

Like many who work in Burbank, the District’s teachers go more than a few extra miles in their daily commute.  They are in part the victims of their own teaching success, helping to create a District that helps boost property values beyond their family budgets. 

Both principals emphasized how essential their classified support staff is their schools’ day-to-day operations, along with the other support staff.  “The saying ‘it takes a village’ definitely applies for every one of our schools,” remarked Dr. Macias.” “They work very hard, are paid little and would sadly be some of our more vulnerable team members should the measure fail.” added Dr.  Crowther.

Dr. Crowther and Dr. Macias see first hand the toll that tight budgets have taken on teacher morale.  They see the disparity between education achievement well within the top 20% of California’s school districts, and salaries that are 46th out of 47 within Los Angeles County. 

The teachers and administrators do deserve kudos. They managed the earlier improvement in quality in spite of lower State funding.  It’s only now that Sacramento is finally funding school Districts at 2008 levels—if you don’t count the pension cost burden that Sacramento shifted to local school districts without their input or consent.  That burden has been steadily mounting since July 2014. By July 2020, it will finally stabilize at an extra $13 million per year.

Since Measure QS’s defeat back in November 2018, the District has been fiscally resourceful in ways never forced upon them before, though some of the fixes are temporary.  This is not the District of the 00’s and early teens, when it had a questionable reputation for handling capital projects and day-to-day expenses.

So why are we insisting that the District commit to “taking it to 10” to garner the 2/3 majority needed for Measure 1?  Surely the District has made a good case that the Measure 1 parcel tax is needed just to preserve the quality gains that teachers have made throughout the District? And surely the teachers have earned a raise, and some good teachers will leave the District if salaries continue to stagnate.

The trouble is, things are still tough all over. Teachers aren’t the only workers who have been paid less than their contributions merit.  Some votes may think to themselves, “At least teachers still have decent jobs and aren’t trying to make ends meet working two part-time McJobs.”  Others will think, “I’ve been doing the work of two for the past five years ever since we got downsized because the alternative is unthinkable.  And I don’t have a retirement plan in my future other than Social Security, heaven help me.”

So what is to be done?  We propose the following bargain:  The voters pass Measure I and the businesses don’t cut back their charitable funding.  In return, the District commits to a have all schools at “10” within, say, four years.  As far as wages and salaries go, the most vulnerable employees get their raise, period.  Keep up the good work.  The teachers get their raise but pledge to be more flexible: some may teach larger classes and others may launch new classes, but all this extra stress is to be in the service of real gains in education quality.  (Also, the teachers get reimbursed for the supplies they need to purchase for their classes.) The administrators don’t give themselves a raise until significant progress toward “10” has been made; that is, after the first or second year.

Parents are willing to make great sacrifices to secure a better life for their children.  Many businesses will tolerate a tax if it delivers real results. 

Neighboring Glendale achieved quality results for its schools similar to those of Burbank, but at a cost per pupil $574 greater than Burbank.  Measure I would add roughly $600 per Burbank pupil. The District must embrace the challenge of pledging to use parcel tax revenues to further improve quality, rather than only preserve recent gains.

Otherwise, Measure I may not garner a 67% vote in its favor.  And even if it does, there is a substantial risk that business good will and donations will dry up.

We believe the District is able to rise to the challenge of “taking it to 10.”  If the District clearly states that it’s also willing, then it will have the best odds for getting Measure I passed.

For the sake of some 15,000 Burbank students, we hope Measure I passes.  

myBurbank Does a Complete Breakdown of Measure I

Editor’s Note – myBurbank will be publishing our voting recommendation of the School District’s Measure I ballot initiative to raise parcel taxes later this week. Hopefully this breakdown will give voters much needed information in this fact presented presentation by Greg Simay.


In the upcoming March 3 election, voters will decide whether to approve the BURBANK UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT QUALITY TEACHER, STAFF AND SCHOOLS MEASURE, or as it will appear on the ballot, MEASURE I.  Voters can begin deciding Measure I as early as next week, when absentee ballots become available.

What Measure I Proposes

Voters are being asked to approve a new tax that, for the next 12 years, would bring about $9.0 million of additional revenues per year to the Burbank Unified School District.  Specifically, Measure I would:

  • Levy an annual, qualified special tax (the Education Parcel Tax) of 10 cents per square foot of improvements on each parcel of taxable real property in Burbank.
  • The EPT would appear as one of the items in the Property Tax bill. Check with your tax accountant or software, but the EPT is most likely not tax deductible.
  • This EPT would begin July 1, 2020 and sunset after 12 years, on June 30, 2032.
  • Parcels that are owned and occupied by at least one senior citizen are exempt from the EPT, but the District would require some paperwork.
  • Parcels that are owned and occupied by at least one disabled person receiving supplemental security income, or social security disability insurance benefits, are exempt from the EPT. However, yearly income can’t exceed 250% of the 2012 federal poverty guidelines from Health and Human Services.  Needless to say, the District would require some paperwork.

To pass, Measure I needs a two-thirds majority of the votes cast.  The two-thirds requirement comes from Proposition 13, which required strong majority approval for any local measure based on taxable real property.

Back in November 2018, an earlier version of Measure I (Measusre QS) had garnered about 58% of the vote, falling short of the required 2/3 (67%) majority.  Measure I contains a sunset provision, the lack of which had deterred some voters for supporting the earlier Measure QS.

Measure I pledges the District to use EPT revenues to maintain, and in some cases improve, the quality of education in its public schools.  Specifically, the authorized uses of EPT revenues would be to:

  • Attract and retain quality teachers and staff. Estimated annual cost:  $3.8 million to 4.2 million, representing about 42% to 47% of EPT revenues.
  • Maintain low class sizes. Estimated annual cost: $0.2 million to $0.6 million, representing about 2% to 7% of EPT revenues.
  • Maintain and expand career and college courses, art, music, science, and innovative programs. Estimated annual cost: $3.4 million to $0.6 million, representing about 38% to 43% of EPT revenues.
  • Maintain and increase safety and wellness support. Estimated annual cost: $0.8 million to $1.2 million, representing about 9% to 13% of EPT revenues.

To accomplish these aims, most of the $9.0 million in EPT revenues would go toward increasing teachers’ salaries and adding teaching staff. (About 80% of the District’s operating and maintenance expenses are labor related.)

Except for elementary school P.E., none of the funds would go for physical education and sports.  Parent booster groups would continue to shoulder the lion’s share of the funding for uniforms and transportation.

Measure I has requirements for transparency and accountability to the public.   Under Measure I the Board would have to:

  • Conduct annual, independent performance audits to assure that EPT proceeds are spent only for purposes that Measure I authorized.
  • Appoint an Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee to further ensure that EPT proceeds are spent only as Measure I authorized.
  • Deposit EPT proceeds in a special account and conduct an annual independent financial audit.
  • Receive an annual written report that shows the amount of EPT funds collected and expended, as well as the status of projects funded by the parcel tax.

In November 2018, voters had approved an increase in the local sales tax rate to generate additional revenues for the City, in part because of similar oversight provisions.

Why a Parcel Tax?

Even if voters are willing to approve a public school tax measure designed to raise $9.0 million, they may object to the type of tax proposed to accomplish this.  Voters approved the City’s 2018 sales tax increase, in part, because one-third of the additional sales tax revenue comes from visitors to Burbank.  And Burbank residents are still free to buy a big-ticket item in an area where the sales tax rate is lower.  As taxes go, transient occupancy taxes (the “bed tax”) are even more popular since nearly all the revenues come from non-residents.  But except for seniors or some of the disabled, the EPT could not be mitigated or avoided, short of moving out of the District. 

So why a parcel tax?  Unfortunately, the District has fewer taxing options than municipalities and other local government agencies.  By law, the District can’t increase the sales tax rate, or impose a bed tax.  The alternatives are revenue bonds and parcel taxes.

Revenue bonds can be used to renovate existing school facilities or add new ones, but cannot be used to increase staffing or boost salaries.  But in the recent past the District has completed its (mostly renovation-oriented) facilities program.  And as reflected in Measure I’s spending purposes, the District maintains that staffing and salary levels are key to maintaining (and in some cases enhancing) the quality of education.  The EPT becomes the only practical alternative by default. 

Supporters of the parcel tax assert that it’s a local source of school funding that the State of California could not take away.  Opponents of the EPT disagree, citing Sate actions (albeit decades ago) that took away local funding in an attempt to equalize per-pupil funding across economically unequal school districts.   They urge instead that the State be politically pressured into increasing school funding, noting that California ranks in the bottom 10 states in school funding.  Supporters counter that, however desirable increased State funding might be, it’s unlikely to occur anytime  soon.

Some have pointed out that over 1,300 students do not have parents living in Burbank, and these non-resident parents would not be subject to the parcel tax.  These students are not displacing the nearly 14,000 students living in Burbank, which have first priority. Rather, the out-of-District students are occupying seats that would otherwise be empty and generate no revenue.  (Recall that school funding is on a per-pupil basis.)  Moreover, out-of-District parents could always choose to revert to their home school district if they were forced to pay some fee equivalent to what an EPT may have generated were they Burbank residents.  All things considered, it may be wise to regard the 1,300 out-of-District students as already providing a net-positive for the District’s financial health.

Some voters may flatly reject Measure I if they conclude that, in at least their case, a parcel tax is just too objectionable.  Other voters may be willing to support Measure I in spite of having disliking parcel-based taxes, but will on that account need a particularly strong assurance that the District will make effective use of the funds raised.

Does the District really need $9.0 million?

Based on its stated purposes, most Measure I revenues would go to maintaining the existing quality of education, with some programs enhanced.  In recent years, the District has raised all of its schools from a 5 or 6 rating (10 highest) to schools with no ratings lower than 8.  Maintaining these gains would understandably be important.  But why is an additional $9.0 million is required to do so, and how has the District managed in the past 16 months following the defeat of an earlier proposed parcel tax.

Sacramento is the culprit.  In order to reduce its own share of pension expenses, the State of California has unilaterally imposed increasing pension liability payments upon California’s local school districts, including Burbank’s. 

  • Up through FY 2013-14, District employees paid 7% of their paycheck toward their retirement, the District chipped in 7% and the State of California took care of the rest.
  • Beginning in FY 2014-15, the State has been increasing the District’s percentage each year until it tops out at 20% in FY 2020-21, less than four months away.
  • By then the District will be paying an extra $13.0 million per year compared to FY 2013-14 pension liability payments, before the yearly increases had begun.

Unlike the City of Burbank, the District has never had a legal option to forego its pension liability payments, even when the State’s pension funds were super funded.  Nor did the District have the option of diverting its pension payments to a “rainy day” fund during the retirement system’s flush years. Nonetheless, the District can’t forego these increased pension obligations even when the State raises them without the District’s input or consent. So pension payment increases have, of necessity, been factored into budgets ever since FY 2014-15. 

It should also be noted that the State, which accounts for about 95% of the District’s revenues, has only recently restored funding to the 2008 level, adjusted for inflation, but not adjusted for upping the District’s share of pension payments from 7% to 20%.  California used to be 5th in the nation in per-student funding; now it’s 41st

The District has become better at using funds efficiently. Voters naturally expect the District to be as cost-efficient as possible before asking for more revenues.  Recall that in November 2018, the District was only aiming for a revenue increase of $9.0 million, whereas the impact of the increased pension obligations would become $13.0 million by FY 2020-21.  That’s an indication that the District had been making judicious cuts from FY 2014-15 to FY 2018-19, when the increased costs of the pension payments were relatively small.  

The challenges have been greater since FY 2019-20, as the increase in pension costs relentlessly climb to 13 million annually.  Spending cuts continue, some of which are tolerable in the short term but detrimental over the long term, notably delayed cost-of-living increases.  Nevertheless, like the earlier Measure QS, Measure I has kept the proposed EPT at 10 cents per taxable square foot.  Evidently the District has found its way to absorb $4.0 million of the $13.0 million through various cost efficiencies.  Moreover, in recent years, the District has improved its management of capital projects, mainly by engaging professionals for whom project management is a core competence.

Several proven cost saving practices will continue. The District and the City will continue working together for their mutual benefit; City parks that use District school property is one notable example. The City provides some $1.9 million in annual support that would otherwise have to be covered by the District:  

  • School Resource Officers: $363,000
  • Joint-Use Agreement: $435,000
  • After-school Programs: $360,000
  • School-based counseling: $245,000
  • Crossing Guards: $466,000
  • Disabled student transportation to schools: $11,000
  • Public Works free recycle bins and pick-up service: $20,000

Additionally, the District takes advantage of a statewide contract and buys in bulk, with substantial annual savings over earlier purchasing practices.

It would appear then that the $9.0 million is needed to avoid a loss of muscle not the retention of fat.  Specific programs on the chopping block would include:

  • Teachers (by increasing class sizes)
  • Career Technical Education courses
  • Elementary Music
  • Middle and High School Arts
  • Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program
  • Elementary PE program
  • Middle School Spanish courses
  • Technology supports

These cuts would make it difficult for the schools to retain their current high ratings.

Specific issues: teacher salaries and class sizes

Voters may accept that a parcel tax is the only means of raising revenues for day-to-day costs, of which 80% is labor-related.  They may also appreciate that the District has made a significant effort to reduce costs.  But they may question the nexus between education quality and teacher salary increases or class size.

Some voters may point out that Glendale teachers handle larger classes than in Burbank, while Los Angeles teachers handle tougher learning environments than in Burbank.  And that’s why they’re paid more.

But Burbank teachers are the big reason why school ratings have climbed from the 6’s to the 8’s, putting Burbank public schools in the top 20% of California public schools generally.  Every Burbank public school has received State recognition as a distinguished, Gold Ribbon school.  An estimated 6-to-11% of school aged Burbank children go to private schools; the low percentage is consistent with the excellent reputation, and performance, of Burbank’s public schools.  Achieving and maintaining high public regard not only requires a teacher with talent, but also a teacher with a willingness to devote many extra, uncompensated hours of going the extra mile in lesson preparation and professional development.  This level of dedication is needed from much of the support staff as well.

So why are the District’s teacher salaries 45th out of 47 unified school districts within Los Angeles County?  Indeed, the District receives the lowest amount of local funding per student among these districts; when state funding is taken into account, the District is second to last.  Arguably, COLAs at reasonable intervals make it easier for the District to retain the quality, dedicated employees it needs for continuing to have quality schools. 

Studies have shown that smaller class sizes are important up to about 3rd grade, and not so important to education quality after that.  The District has a particular education initiative of having only 24 students per class for kindergarten through 3rd grade. Beyond 3rd grade, class size is more a matter of balancing workload, taking into account the impact on teachers’ working conditions versus cost savings.

If Measure I passes, the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee may well ask the District to not only account for the appropriate use of Measure I funds, but for how well they produced measurable results.

 Immediate Cost Impacts of the EPT on Taxpayers

Some voters will reject Measure I based on cost impacts alone.  Their personal financial or business situations may be such that no public benefit claimed for the EPT, even if granted to be true, is worth the additional financial harm it would cause.  Measure I attempts to shrink this potential class of voters by exempting home-owning seniors and lower-income disabled. And because those having parcels otherwise exempt from ad valorem property taxes in a given tax year would also be exempt from the parcel tax in the same year, Measure I spares many non-profits, which have their own perennial budget challenges.

As for everyone else: residential parcels would provide about 35% of the $9.0 million raised by the EPT; commercial property, about 48%; and apartment building owners, about $17%.

  • For a cozy single-family residence of 1,000 square feet, the EPT would be $100 yearly. For a more typical Burbank residence of 2,000 square feet, it would be $200 yearly.  For a residence of 5,000 square feet, it would be $500 yearly.
  • If a single–family resident decides to add two additional adult dwelling units (ADU’s) of 500 square feet apiece, the EPT would be $50 per year for each one. The initial rental rate for these ADUs would likely be set taking this into account.
  • A commercial building owner with 50,000 taxable square feet would pay an additional $5,000 yearly. Depending on market conditions or provisions in a lease agreement, some or all of this amount could be passed on to the lessees.
  • A major landlord owning 1,000 rental units, with an average of 1,200 taxable square feet per unit, would have at least 1,200,000 square feet subject to the parcel tax. At 10 cents per square foot, the tax liability would be $120,000 per year.
  • A large corporate facility with 1,000,000 taxable square feet (think high rises) would pay $100,000 yearly. It is likely that a significant portion of this amount could not easily be mitigated, unless they were making large charitable contributions to the District; e.g., by contributing to the Burbank Educational Foundation.

The example concerning rental units merits further discussion. Under State law, landlords can only increase rents by 8% per year, raising the question of whether they could mitigate the EPT with higher rents.  However, it’s likely that tenants would see an 8% increase even without the EPT for several plausible reasons: real inflation is more than 3%; Proposition 13 may be repealed for commercial properties in the November election; the State may further restrict annual rent increases down the road.  So, relative to what they were planning to do anyway, landlords would experience the EPT as a pure hit to the bottom line and rate-of-return. So, while Measure I does not exempt senior citizen renters from rent increases due to the EPT, it’s probably a moot point.

Possible Long-Term Benefit Impacts on the Taxpayer

Everything else being equal, the relative quality of a community’s public schools significantly boosts property values, unless the absolute quality falls below a certain level.  For example, if a community manages to retain a decent level of public school education, while surrounding communities suffer a loss in quality, then property values are likely to go up.  But if a community is on a downward trajectory itself, even if surrounding communities are getting worse faster, property values are likely to stagnate or begin falling.

Conversely, if a community maintains its current, decent level of public education quality, but surrounding communities move on to excellence, then property values may fall.   

Back in 2018, 86 Los Angeles County communities surveyed, today’s residential real estate prices were compared to the previous, pre-Great Recession peak prices for 86 Los Angeles County communities. (The actual year of the previous peak varied slightly from community to community.)  Results: 30 communities were still below their previous peaks; nine had peaks up to 5% greater than their previous peaks; for 12, an increase of 5+% to 10%; and for 16, an increase of 10+% to 20%.

There were 19 communities whose current property values were more than 20% above their previous peaks.  With an increase of 26% over its pre-recession peak, Burbank was firmly within this last group—and in light of current property values, continues to be.  It shares the spotlight with wealthy enclaves like Beverly Hills, San Marino, and South Pasadena; and with beach communities like Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach. 

Burbank is prosperous, but with a median income of around $66,000, it’s no Beverly Hills nor is beach volleyball just a short walk away.  The drivers of Burbank’s property values are likely to be first, the housing/employment imbalance, then school quality, and then the range and quality of city services.  In any given year other factors—like those that led to the Great Recession—may push real estate values downward, in spite of continuing positive factors.  But the historic long term for Burbank has been upward.

While not necessarily relieving any cash flow challenges presented by property ownership, property appreciation does confer a long-term advantage that must be weighed against tax measures for purposes that tend to preserve that advantage.  

Revenue Impacts on the District.

The District is blessed with a number of corporate supporters, donating to the Burbank Educational Foundation and Burbank Arts-for-All among other initiatives.  Business owners with cross-generational ties to Burbank schools may decide to continue their level of charitable giving, even though the EPT hits both their business and their private residence.  Other businesses, focused more on California’s numerous tax burdens generally, may decide the local EPT is the final straw that makes them vote with their feet.

A large publicly held corporation, even if publicly spirited, is another matter. A certain level of charitable giving can be defended on purely investment grounds, such as burnishing the image of a valuable corporate brand, or honoring the values of an influential class of stockholders (e.g., “green” investing.)  However, past a certain point, an additional tax burden can mean a reduction in charitable giving, so as to mitigate the impact to the bottom line.

Would the EPT reduce charitable giving to the District?  The major donors have been discreet on this question.  However, it is significant that the Burbank Chamber of Commerce takes a neutral position on Measure I, electing to merely educate the community on its provisions.  While better for the District than choosing to oppose Measure I, it’s reasonable to conclude that the business community is divided about Measure I.  Business may also be holding their breath until the voters decide in November whether or not to repeal Proposition 13 for businesses.

So the District faces the prospect that EPT revenues may be accompanied by less charitable giving.  If donations were focused on supplies and materials, the goal of teacher retention is not affected in the immediate term, but may be affected in the longer term.

Concluding remarks

Parents have the greatest incentive to support Measure I.  If a parcel tax can maintain the high quality of Burbank public schools, then parents can in good conscience avoid the far higher costs of a private school—while still paying taxes in support of public schools they would no longer be using. 

Apartment dwellers would probably see 8% rent increases per year with or without the EPT. Seniors and many disabled would be exempt from the EPT.  These groups have an incentive to support Measure I if they are persuaded that it will allow the District to avoid going backwards to offering less quality education.

Businesses facing EPT’s in the tens of thousands of dollars have the least incentive to support the EPT, particularly if they are answerable to stockholders.  The District may have to commit to further increasing education quality across the board (perhaps all the way to the level of the high school choir programs) so that the District is in the top 1% nationwide.  Any company contributing to that level of success would arguably have a bragging point that increases the value of their brand.

In any case, the District’s challenge is to get two-thirds of the voters to approve Measure I, while retaining the good will of major corporate donors.

Burbank High School Students Receive Nation-wide Award for Original App

Four Burbank High School students have been celebrated in a nation-wide competition for a Congress-lead computer science app initiative.

The Congressional App Challenge launched in 2013, and stands as one of the most esteemed computer science awards in the country. The competition is run district-by-district throughout the U.S. and encourages both middle school and high school students to create an original app using any topic, platform, or programming language of their choice. 

High school juniors Armen Arkelyan, Jhan Pogosyan, Haroutyun Joulfayan, and sophomore Leah Breyer are the four members of Burbank High School’s Coding Club who won for their app, “Go Green.” The app aims to create awareness surrounding global warming and the carbon footprints created using vehicular transportation. 

The initial focus that sparked the idea for the app revolved around creating awareness for universal problems, with the final decision being a global warming initiative. 

Burbank High School students (from left) Jhan Pogosyan, Leah Breyer, Haroutyun Joulfayan, and Armen Arkelyan display their award-winning app on the BHS campus. (photo by Ross A. Benson)

“We wanted to not just create an app that’s interesting for us but something that can actually have an impact on the world, something about major problems,” said club member Armen Arkelyan.

The app starts with a visual of a forest that is dead with no visible vegetation. By entering one’s vehicle model, miles per gallon, and number of miles driven, a carbon footprint is calculated. Over time, reduction of carbon emission leads to a healthier looking forest. A graph will track users’ carbon footprint, and the objective is to get the forest looking as green as possible. 

The students’ goal with the app was to shed light on the urgency of climate change and how each individual can change their habits to make a difference.

“It’s about raising awareness to show how much people are actually contributing even though you might not think it’s a lot. It is a lot when you look at the numbers. The main factor was raising awareness,” Arkelyan added. “Even though individually maybe it might not seem like there’s much of a difference, together as a group an impact can be made.”

The students learned of their win through a call from California 28th District Representative Adam Schiff, who expressed his approval of their impressive accomplishment. 

“I am incredibly proud of the talented local students who submitted entries in the 2019 Congressional App Challenge. They designed creative solutions to challenges we face every day, while learning how to code and building technical skills for their futures,” Schiff said in a statement.

The Coding Club has gained popularity in recent years at BHS, and is focused on student initiative and self-starting participation. Computer science teacher Brenda Kosbab is in her sixteenth year teaching at Burbank High School and contributes to an advanced and rare program that has enabled students to reach success in their computer technology endeavors.

“The coursework that we have for computer science here is fairly unique. We have three different courses that students can take in computer programming, and a lot of high schools still don’t have any sort of programming courses that they offer,” Kosbab said. 

For students thinking of joining the program, Kosbab emphasizes to them what a great opportunity it is for their future.

“What I always say to students is ‘You are setting yourself apart, this is a unique program.’ ”

Club member Haroutyun Joulfayan echoed a similar sentiment and feels that the recognition they’re receiving will motivate other students as well. 

“It’s a worthwhile investment of your time. It’s a chance for new opportunities. I think that [the award] will really inspire people to join and better themselves,” Joulfayan explained.

In addition, he hopes the app will have an emotional appeal for people by helping them gain a clearer picture of how we contribute to global warming in our daily lives. 

“I think it’ll play on the pathos of people. It helps you to visualize it in a more realistic sense,” Joulfayan said.

Burbank High School Principal Thomas Crowther says he is thankful to have BHS kids going the extra mile to show their passion in their areas of interest.

“It’s nice when you have students who are already taking really rigorous coursework, already spending a portion of their day in AP computer science, doing it as an extracurricular activity, entering an optional contest and winning. That’s pretty cool,” said Crowther.

Beyond computer science awareness, Crowther expressed the award’s representation of the variety of opportunities present within the Burbank public educational community. 

“I just hope it signals to the community what a great experience the public high schools in Burbank are. There is a pathway for everybody, whether it’s athletics, activities, or placement courses. There really is something for everybody here.”