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.
“I know there was some skepticism about whether or not this matters. It clearly did,” board member Steve Ferguson said during the panel’s virtual meeting. “We were in full nosedive and prepping for landing/crash, you name it, and really it was leadership on all levels pulling together to make this happen.”
“In the face of these challenges, we have agreed on a budget that is balanced, responsible and protects core services — education, health care, social safety net and emergency preparedness and response,” Newsom said in a joint statement along with Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
Debbie Kukta, assistant superintendent of administrative services, presented the board with a budget proposal estimating an essentially unchanged rate in Burbank’s local control funding formula that would keep BUSD afloat for the 2020-21 school year, alleviating the board’s need to make any difficult cuts in programs or positions for now.
“In the meantime, we are able to move forward cautiously within our budget and will not lay off individuals at this time,” Superintendent Matt Hill wrote in his weekly update. “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.”
The coast is far from clear for BUSD and most districts as they deal with delays in state payments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, deferrals that would “significantly impact clash flows,” according to Kukta. She recommended that the board evaluate possible cuts in the future to keep Burbank in a better position.
In an effort to avoid any reductions, Hill continued to encourage the community to contact government officials to press for federal funding, most notably from the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act — a $3 trillion relief bill that would address the economic fallout from the pandemic. The proposed legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on May 15 and has lingered in the Senate since then.
“Our advocacy is not done,” Hill said. “The work that we did together got us to this point, but we still have an opportunity and a need at the federal level for that next round of stimulus that’s sitting on the Senate floor. We need to keep pushing and say we need adequate funding to reopen schools. If we can continue advocacy, then we’ll have a much smoother opening this fall.”
Hill also said the Horace Mann Child Development Center will remain open this year and provide much-needed child care for Burbank parents. However, the finances of the center will be analyzed and discussed in the future.
Despite the adoption of the budget, the district staff treads warily into the fall because the pandemic and economic situation are very fluid. Kukta told the board that a revision to the state budget could be made and more information regarding the state’s revenues and projections will be available by the first interim budget report, which will be on or before Dec. 15.
“We don’t know what to expect,” she said. “[State officials] don’t know what to expect. When we do our first interim, it could be that this is a whole new picture again. … We really don’t know what’s going to happen. There actually can be — depending on how the economy recovers or does not recover —several budget revisions as the year goes by. It’s going to be an interesting year with ups and downs. … So as we look at this, we may be OK for right now but things change. So we just have to be flexible and ready to react.”
ON HYBRID MODEL
As plans for instruction in the fall remain in the development stages, the biggest question directed at the BUSD reopening committee concerns the A.M./P.M. model. In that arrangement, some students would attend school in the morning and some in the afternoon on certain days, and all would engage in distance learning at times — the better to avoid the risk of COVID-19.
Hill addressed the issue in his update on Thursday and acknowledged that has been a big topic of discussion, especially for elementary and middle schools.
“We have heard that some would prefer a more regular schedule instead of an alternating two-day schedule,” he said. “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 hybrid models are ideal but we are working to mitigate the issues.”
Health guidelines are a big reason for the hybrid model. The committee wants to avoid a large number of students gathering during lunch, which would increase the risk of sickness for them and staff.
Hill asks parents to complete a survey issued by the district and email any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.