Parents showed their vexation to Burbank Unified School District officials over yet another delay of the Walt Disney Elementary School modernization project during a virtual Governing Board meeting on Thursday, asking staff and board members for answers and to not keep its stakeholders in the dark.
“I’m grateful to everyone for every single sleepless hour that has gone into thinking, creating, planning and executing our current education plan,” an emotional parent told the board. “What I would like to ask tonight is that the same passion, drive, perseverance and take-charge attitude be used to get the construction started and completed at Disney Elementary.
“I understand we’re in a pandemic. I live it every day in our house, and that there were circumstances outside of the district’s control that delayed the project. However, going forward, we need to take a proactive approach to get this project off the ground.”
The planned modular two-story building — worked on by Silver Creek Industries — was initially budgeted at more than $3 million in 2015 and is now exceeding $9 million. Construction plans recently hit a snag because of Division of State Architect approvals. The delay was announced during a school facilities oversight committee meeting on Sept. 2, shocking and frustrating Disney Elementary parents.
“We were supposed to break ground originally in 2017,” a parent told the board via Zoom. “We’re in 2020. I feel like this opportunity has been squandered. I want to hold the school board accountable. This is ridiculous. For us to be continually disregarded in terms of this construction project is beyond appalling.
“This should have been done by now and thanks to COVID, we have this golden opportunity, a silver lining during this pandemic, to get this construction done without having 400-plus children running around a playground.”
Superintendent Matt Hill was sympathetic in his response and shouldered the blame in regards to the lack of communication between the district and parents.
“I understand your frustration,” he said. “I’ve been a part of that journey with you the past five years. I know it’s been going on much longer. Disney [Elementary] is definitely a need. Any delay and any challenge with construction, I’ll take ownership of that. We need to do a much better job communicating.”
Hill added that it was a mistake to not inform stakeholders about delays as soon as staff was notified but they are “still moving forward” with the project and will provide another update during the next school facilities oversight committee meeting in October. He also said because of the fluidity of construction projects, there is no set date to begin work on the structure.
Following Hill’s response, the board echoed the parents’ irritation about the delay and miscommunication.
“I’ll be honest with all of you. I’m getting tired of hearing about the communication issue,” said board President Armond Aghakhanian. “I understand the frustration of our parents from Disney [Elementary]. As a parent, I also understand how difficult it is and sometimes you may feel like your voice is not being heard, and that really frustrates me as well.”
Board members assured viewers and parents who wrote letters and commented during the meeting that they value Disney Elementary as much as any school in BUSD and asked staff to provide updates on the project more often.
“Disney is a gem in this district. Let me get that out first,” board member Steve Ferguson said. “ … So I agree with [parents’] suggestions of let’s figure out how we can establish a regular cadence and communication pattern that’s going to work, whether that be in a newsletter, whether that be in a Zoom meeting or whatever.
“We’ve got to own 100% that the communication didn’t get to you, and I’ll own that, too. But moving forward, I think that the board needs to step in and start asking more questions and start getting more routine reports. … I realize staff capacity is limited, but we can’t leave 400 families hanging in the wind while we’re waiting for this and just letting them guess. That’s not appropriate. It’s not OK. I’m not hearing resistance from the superintendent. In the middle of a pandemic, this is not the fire.”