The Burbank Unified School District reached a tentative agreement with the teachers association to reopen campuses for limited in-person instruction on April 12.
Steve Frintner, BUSD Board of Education president, made the announcement during a virtual meeting on Thursday before hearing concerns from teachers and employees during the public comments portion.
The district originally planned on returning at the end of March but pushed the date back a few weeks to give teachers more time to be fully inoculated. Negotiations between BUSD and employees are ongoing.
However, teachers remain concerned about COVID-19 after one of their own, Esmeralda Hernandez, died from complications of the virus on March 6. Hernandez worked as an instructional assistant at Providencia Elementary.
Superintendent Matt Hill assured stakeholders and employees that the district has continuously worked on various reopening plans since last summer and safety has always been a priority. BUSD acquired necessary personal protective equipment for employees and plans to reopen with a hybrid model that has students on campus for a limited amount of time. However, that on-campus experience does not include recess or nutrition, according to Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta.
“It’s not going to be the same learning experience that we had a year ago,” Hill said. “There will be masks on everybody. They will be six feet apart. There will be new rules and protocols. Safety precautions will be the No. 1 focus, but there are close to 5,000 students that need that in-person support.”
As COVID-19 cases plummet and Los Angeles County continues to ease restrictions, school districts have ramped up their reopening plans, especially after the state announced that it would offer incentives to those that open campuses for its youngest learners. The deadline to receive a share of additional funding — which is based on the local control funding formula — is April 1, and districts that open at a later date will lose 1% per day of additional funding.
Board members acknowledged that BUSD would greatly benefit from the money but assured the community and employees that it’s not the driving force of their reopening efforts.
“Am I frustrated that the state kind of dangled money in front of us? Sure; we all are,” said board member Emily Weisberg. “It’s not ideal. It sort of felt like blackmail, right? But that’s not why we did it. We did it because it was time to go back.
“We’re going back because it’s the right time to do it; because science tells us it’s the right time; because the [Centers for Disease Control] — even though they’re changing parameters and changing protocols it seems by the minute — has told us that’s safe to do so. That’s why.”
Frintner echoed Weisberg, adding that the “students’ emotional and social health is a huge factor, and we need to recognize that.” According to Hill, nearly 5,000 students said they need in-person support.
Teachers also expressed feeling underappreciated with the rhetoric that they don’t want to add more to their workload.
“I cannot be here today and not tell you how demoralized and frustrated more than the majority of our members are that once again we are being asked to turn on a dime and do the impossible,” Abasta said. “Our members brought all their skill and expertise and they made distance learning work.”
Hill and board members were quick to praise BUSD employees for their work and dedication to the students.
“Our teachers have done an amazing job, and I want to thank our teachers and our staff for all that they’ve done and we want to continue that partnership,” Hill said.
BURBANK POOL CLOSED
The Burbank High School pool will be closed for at least a year due to degradation of the deck.
Larry Cross, BUSD director of facilities, told the board that the concrete around the pool has failed, making it unsafe for students. The steel rebar had been penetrated with water, which caused it to rust and expand and push pieces of concrete off.
An architect advised the district to bring in an expert to provide an analysis on what needs to be done and how to move forward. The goal is to design a new pool deck and upgrade it to current codes.
BUSD CONCERNED OVER FINANCIAL FUTURE
Debbie Kukta, assistant superintendent of administrative services, presented a second interim budget report with a “healthier picture” on Thursday.
The biggest difference is in federal funding. Burbank will receive an additional $5,610,697, as well as an increase of $148,223 in local revenue.
BUSD also benefits from the recent changes to the cost of living adjustments, which goes up 3.84% in the 2021-22 fiscal year and gives the district an additional $5.5 million in revenue.
However, there is concern for the future with deficit spending expected in 2022-23. Kukta expects the district to have a negative ending balance of $6 million in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Hill addressed the budget situation in the State of Schools presented by the Burbank Arts and Education Foundation on Monday.
“As a middle-class community, we don’t receive additional concentration funding from the state to address our at-promise students, and we don’t have our local tax revenues like a parcel tax that other school districts have,” he said. “That is making us make difficult decisions. We’re still in a multiyear challenge.”
Though additional federal and state funding alleviates the current situation, Hill said it’s not enough, and there will likely be a loss of employees due to lower enrollment.
“I have to stress that we have been doing that for three years,” he said. “We’re as thin as you can get.”
Hill urged BUSD stakeholders to advocate for additional school funding to state officials.