It may be a new year, but the concerns remain the same for the Burbank Unified School District. In the first official Board of Education meeting of 2021, Superintendent Matt Hill on Thursday apprised stakeholders and board members of a challenging road ahead in regard to planning for the current and following school year and the projected budget deficit.
Responding to public comments about the possible reopening of schools for in-person instruction, Hill said he does not anticipate it happening during the current academic year because of the COVID-19 case rate in Los Angeles County and the slow rollout of vaccines.
“The state requirement, as stated, is cases must be below 25 per 100,000 people [for campuses] to be allowed to reopen, and L.A. County is triple that right now,” Hill informed the board and community members. “As far as potential for reopening schools to the fullest extent this year, that is very unlikely in L.A. County.”
BUSD committed on Nov. 23 to distance learning for the remainder of the school year to provide a stable platform for students and teachers. Since then, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have surged at an alarming rate throughout the state.
“The decision we made in November is showing to be the correct one as we continue to look at the very high numbers in Southern California,” said board President Steve Frintner. “Southern California is ground zero at this point for COVID, both in the U.S. and the world.”
Hill said the district staff is focused on getting employees vaccinated as soon as possible and encouraged all employees age 65 and older to schedule an appointment for the vaccine.
In an effort to relieve hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients, Gov. Gavin Newsom made Californians of those ages — about 6.6 million residents —eligible for the vaccine last week.
Once employees are vaccinated, BUSD officials can then shift their focus to planning for on-campus activities for the remainder of the year and the next academic year. However, the fluidity of the pandemic has made it difficult for Hill to plan accordingly.
“It is a little premature to start planning [for next year],” said Hill, who added that he hopes to provide broader communication about reopening in March. “Is it a hybrid [schedule] in the fall or not? A lot is going to change in the next six to eight weeks. Right now we’re focused on making sure distance learning is continuing to improve.” In a hybrid schedule, students alternate between on-campus instruction and distance learning so classrooms aren’t crowded and the chance of spreading the virus is lowered.
“We’re going to make sure we have good partnerships to get our employees vaccinated, and when it’s safe to do so, we’ll bring students back on campus this fall for instruction, athletics, activities and really a strong focus on the end of the year,” Hill added.
Another issue the board will have to discuss in the near future is the estimated $18 million deficit in the second year of BUSD’s budget. Hill said he and his staff will continue to analyze and monitor the governor’s budget proposal for its possible impact on revenues available to school districts.
“More detail will come out and that will change,” Hill said. “Some of that will get better but it’s not going to resolve that deficit. So we do have big decisions to make coming up in February and beyond.”
The budget situation will be discussed in the next board meeting on Feb. 4.
The John Burroughs High School student body president updated the board on plans to change the institution’s mascot.
President Nadaly Jones, a senior, said at Thursday’s meeting that more than 100 suggestions have been submitted, and Associated Student Body leaders hope to narrow that down to about 20 before students are asked to vote on a mascot.
Burroughs students, teachers and administrators voted in favor of changing the mascot, the Indian, in December. The date on which they will be able to select a mascot is to be determined.