Council Rejects Parcel Tax Idea After Fierce Debate

First published in the Oct. 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Following an intense discussion, the Burbank City Council voted this week not to pursue a ballot measure that would tax the city’s biggest parcels to fund the school district and municipal services.
Little information regarding the potential tax was available at the council’s Tuesday meeting, as city staff members had brought only a first-step agenda item to gather input from the group about how — and whether — to craft it. If approved by both the council and more than two-thirds of Burbank voters, it would likely have taken aim at the parcels on which Burbank’s major corporations, such as Amazon and Warner Bros., are located.
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BUSD Says Its Employees Must Be Vaccinated

First published in the Sept. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

With the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Burbank Unified School District is following the lead of other educational institutions and districts in requiring all employees to be vaccinated.
The BUSD Board of Education stood firm on its decision, voting 5-0 to adopt the resolution despite pleas from some who work with the district opposing the vaccine mandate. Continue reading “BUSD Says Its Employees Must Be Vaccinated”

Schools Celebrate Full Return to Campuses

Photo courtesy Sarah Varosky
Sarah Varosky drops off her son Eliott at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary on Monday, which was the Burbank Unified School District’s first full day of in-person instruction since the pandemic began 17 months ago.

Superintendent Matt Hill of the Burbank Unified School District goes into every new school year feeling butterflies in his stomach, but he said the nerves he felt on Monday were replaced with joy when he saw students and teachers connecting on the first day of full in-person instruction in 17 months.

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Challengers Lead in Council, School Board Races

Anthony Surges, Second City Seat Contested

Days after the election, Konstantine Anthony and Nick Schultz continued late this week to be the front-runners for two seats on the Burbank City Council, though Tamala Takahashi added suspense to the race by hovering in third place.
Anthony’s expected presence on the council would be only the latest development in his complicated relationship with the city: If he clinches victory, the disability services provider will have gone from suing Burbank this year to joining its lead panel in December.
As of the most recent update from Los Angeles County on Thursday evening, Anthony had 15,222 votes, or 20.7% of the total of votes counted, while Schultz had 11,328 votes, or 15.4%. If their leads hold, the two will sit on the council for the next four years.
Takahashi was not far behind, however, nabbing 10,862 votes, or 14.77%, in the Tuesday election in which eight candidates vied.

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In Revising Policies, BUSD Explicitly Rejects Racism

Photo by Charles Hirsch / Burbank Leader
The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education is asking for recommendations in the renaming of David Starr Jordan Middle School as it advances in the name change process. Jordan is widely considered a controversial academic who espoused eugenics, a racist genetic theory based on selective breeding.

With the blessing from several community members who spoke during a virtual meeting on Thursday, the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved the proposed revision of BUSD policies and administrative regulations that now include language rejecting “all forms of racism as destructive to the district’s mission, vision, values and goals.”
The majority of public comments — lasting one hour, 49 minutes — at the meeting supported the district for its first steps in addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Teachers, parents and community members shared personal stories involving racism, and board members appeared moved by what they heard.
“For us to be able to have that opportunity to listen and learn and create that dialogue so many people talk about, that is the start of this work,” said BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill. “Some of this work has been happening in individual classrooms, with individuals at the district level and board level.
“But for us as the Burbank Unified School District to come out with a statement saying we are unified, we acknowledge our past, we acknowledge we aren’t perfect, we acknowledge that we need to move forward, that’s powerful. And it creates a space so we can have these conversations, that we can open our hearts and open our minds and continue the work.”
That work involved understanding the system, structures and policies that hold the district back “from ensuring that all of our students thrive in our school district,” Hill added.
Prior to the meeting, the district announced the launching of a website — at burbankusd.org/dei — that details BUSD’s journey to becoming more diverse and inclusive. There’s an introductory video in which Hill shared how he, coming from a working-class family, learned that the “American dream is not the same for everyone.”
“It took my journey into education and my doctoral studies of social justice to really look at my life [and learn] my life is not the same as others’,” he said in the video. “There are barriers, systems, rules, regulations, processes that prevent many of our students of color and families of color to be successful. We must hear these stories; we must share our own stories and see how they’re different.”

RENAMING JORDAN MIDDLE SCHOOL

The district’s work during the past year to create a more diverse and inclusive environment for stakeholders has included an effort to rename David Starr Jordan Middle School.
Assistant Superintendent John Paramo updated the board on the process, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said a committee tasked with renaming the school is “actually a very hard-working group” that is prepared to move forward.
Jordan — the founding president of Stanford University — was a controversial academic who advocated in favor of eugenics, a movement that set out to improve the genetic composition of humankind by way of selective breeding and is now widely viewed as racist.
The district sent out a survey in the form of a Google document on Friday that asks stakeholders to suggest a name and explain their choice. Suggestions will be taken through Nov. 13, and then the committee will bring three to five names to the board in February 2021.
Board member Steve Ferguson recommended that the committee name the school after a woman.
“I think that’s important, and while I don’t want to tie the committee’s hands extensively on searching for this, I think one school is a bare minimum and frankly should be a factor of consideration,” Ferguson said.

Burbank School Board Candidates’ Statements

Armond Aghakhanian

Armond Aghakhanian

I am a proud Burbank resident, parent and teacher. My wife and I chose to raise our family in Burbank and give back to our community. There is a reason why we decided to make Burbank our home 13 years ago: because we love our city and believe in its public education system.
I am running for reelection to the Burbank school board because I want to build on the progress we have made in delivering equal opportunities and first-rate educational programs to our students and stakeholders. As president and member of the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education for the past five years, I have dedicated my services to providing safe, healthy and equitable educational opportunities for every student, teacher, staff member and parent. I have a vested interest in making sure our public schools deliver.
Furthermore, I have over 20 years of experience in education, business and public service. My professional and service efforts are focused on serving and strengthening our community.
My priorities:
• COVID-19. California/local public health and educational professionals, not politicians, determine when and how we open schools and keep everyone safe.
• Equity. As co-founder of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, I’ll work to ensure our district’s workforce grows in professionalism and diversity.
• Funding. The coronavirus pandemic and economic crises will impact our budget. We must expand health safety while securing equitable educational funding.
• Continue. New programs and career readiness; mental health resources; career technical courses; STEM; lower suspension and absentee rates; maintaining districtwide transparency.
• Climate. Transition district into 100% clean, renewable energy.
Background:
• Teacher. Glendale Community College, East Los Angeles Community College
• Education. Cal State Northridge (B.A.); Woodbury University (MBA); Pepperdine University (doctorate)
I live in Burbank with my wife, Gayane Gasamanyan, a local pharmacist, and our son Arameh, a 3rd-grader at Joaquin Miller Elementary School.
I have been endorsed by the Burbank Teachers Association, BUSD board members Roberta Reynolds and Charlene Tabet, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Sen. Robert Hertzberg, Mayor Sharon Springer and many other community leaders.
We are facing challenging and uncertain times. We need leadership with experience. I respectfully ask for your vote.

Go to armondforschoolboard.com or visit  facebook.com/Armondforschoolboard.


Steve Ferguson

Steve Ferguson

My name is Steve Ferguson and I am a proud product of Burbank. For a little over five years it has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve this community and the 15,000 students of Burbank Unified. Utilizing close to 20 years of public service, I have worked hard to build a culture of collaboration, working with our teachers, classified staff, and our parent community to push our schools into the future.
Over the past five years, I have:
• Fought to preserve vocational/career technical education courses, after the county eliminated funding.
• Sponsored and passed the district’s suicide prevention policy, mandating suicide prevention training for all staff, and established annual reporting requirements on student hospitalization statistics to ensure resources can be better focused moving forward.
• Worked with city leaders to have secondary student ID cards double as public library cards, exposing students to municipal library resources and programs, and ensuring they have access to the internet 7-days a week.
• Moved the board meeting start time from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to increase engagement and allow for more working parents to participate in board meetings.
• Established monthly EdWalks to improve board member accessibility, so constituents could engage board members on the Chandler bike path during a morning walk.
If re-elected, I plan to work to:
• Manage a safe return to schools for staff, families and students.
• Attract and retain highly qualified educators and staff to our district.
• Preserve and expand graduation pathways.
• Drive issues of equity.
I am running for re-election because in these uncertain times, we need experienced leaders who will place our children’s health and education first. Our schools are the backbone of Burbank, and I will continue working hard to ensure our schools remain safe and prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow. I am proud to be endorsed by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, school board Vice President Steve Frintner, school board Clerk Charlene Tabet, school board member Roberta Reynolds and the Burbank Teachers Association.
For more information email me at SteveFergusonforSchoolBoard@gmail.com or visit my website at SteveFerguson.org.


Roberta Grande Reynolds

Roberta Grande Reynolds

As a lifetime Burbank resident and a graduate of Burbank schools, I have a deep understanding of Burbank’s culture. My time spent at Cal State Northridge earning my bachelor’s degree in chemistry and my time spent at USC earning my doctorate in pharmacy has provided valuable experience in both the public and private education systems. And, as a parent, aunt and grandparent of past, present and future Burbank students, I have a passionate commitment to the highest standards of academic excellence, safety and inclusion for all of our students.
During the years that I have served on the board of education, our district has continued to experience strong academic growth and opportunities for all students through the development of strategic master plans in the areas of special education, social and emotional wellness and Arts for All. We have developed and maintained strong community partnerships which have allowed us to sustain our commitment to the arts, sports and career technical education while developing strong supports for the social/emotional health of our students, despite the constantly challenging and changing economic environment facing the state of California. Through these partnerships we must continue to move forward.
As California is once again facing a fiscal crisis, we face new challenges in maintaining academic excellence while navigating a pandemic. We need to ensure that our students academically thrive within an environment that is safe for all students, both physically and emotionally. Right now, more than ever, experience counts.
With more than 30 years of hospital pharmacy management and front-line patient care experience, a multitude of leadership positions in parent volunteer organizations, and a decade of experience in board governance with three terms as president, I am uniquely qualified to face these challenges. As we navigate the transition back to the classroom, it is important that we focus on health, science and data to keep our students and staff safe. If I am re-elected, I am prepared to dedicate the use of my time, talent and resources for the benefit of our students.


Emily Weisberg

Emily Weisberg

School is my favorite place to be. I loved being a student, and I love being a teacher, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I want to make our schools a place where students, teachers, staff and families feel they belong, and are provided the resources and support they need.
For over 20 years, I’ve worked as a teacher, facilitator and curriculum designer with a specific focus on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. I hold a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California, with a focus in educational psychology.
I currently serve as a member of the Burbank Board of Library Trustees and am honored to be current board chair.
Burbank Unified is one of the best school districts in the state. But we’re at a critical moment. The district needs an advocate with experience, an educator who will fight for students, and those working to help our students, to gain access to the opportunities, resources and care they need and deserve.
If elected, I will be the only K-12 teacher serving on the school board. The experience I’ve gained in the classroom, working with administration, parents, community members and staff, provides me with a deep understanding of the complexities of public education.
Since deciding to run for school board, I’ve spent the last year meeting with parents, teachers, students and classified staff to better understand what people want, and need, from the district and the board. In these conversations, one of the things that have come up repeatedly is the desire for more open, consistent and transparent communication between the district and the community it serves. Whether the parent of a child not yet school-ready, or a teacher unsure of their job in light of budget cuts, people need to know someone is listening.
We all need a school board that is equitable, proactive and available to all our community, at all times. We need leadership. I hope to be that leader for our schools.

Here’s Who Is Running for Local Office

The names are in: Eight candidates will battle over two City Council seats in November, with four other people vying for one of three positions on the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education.
Additionally, three people are running for city treasurer, with the local election coinciding with state and national elections on Nov. 3.
One candidate listed as running for the BUSD board, Larry Applebaum, recently informed The Leader that he was withdrawing from the race.
Information regarding candidates’ campaign donations and other disclosures are available on the city’s website at burbankca.gov/departments/city-clerk-s-office/elections. Contact information for candidates is provided on that site and also is listed below.
Voters will also decide the fate of several state propositions, as well as a municipal rent regulation measure.
The Leader will publish statements from school board candidates on Sept. 5 and city council candidates in its Sept. 12 issue.
Here are the candidates looking to be elected as council members, city treasurer or school board members, presented in the order they are expected to appear on the ballot:

Continue reading “Here’s Who Is Running for Local Office”

BUSD Spared From Big Budget Cuts for Now

School districts across California scored a big victory on Monday when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an agreement with the Legislature on a 2020-21 state budget that will avoid the drastic cuts in school funding that initially were proposed in May, allowing the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education to sigh with relief Thursday as it adopted a budget for the next fiscal year.
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BUSD: Deep Budget Cuts Call for Parent, Political Advocacy

Photo courtesy Ryan Hirsch

The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education issued a call for activism to its community members after revealing financial cuts totaling more than $13 million to local schools with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current state budget proposal.
“We are going to be facing a substantial reduction and need to be realistic about that right now and make sure our parents and constituents understand that,” said board Vice President Steve Frintner.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Debbie Kutka and Director of Fiscal Services Alyssa Low presented to the board how the revisions to the state budget would essentially gut local districts, estimating a total $13.65 million in less LCFF funding for Burbank schools.
“As we start highlighting a menu of options for reductions, it is going to be shocking,” Superintendent Matt Hill said on Tuesday. “We’ve been looking through this. We’re talking about a lot of deep cuts that will completely transform this district in a negative way. That’s why we’re getting the information out there.
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