Proposed cuts draw letter of concern from Burbank Unified School District

Burbank Unified school officials plan to draft a letter to the city of Burbank, expressing their disappointment and concern about cuts proposed by city officials totaling over $2 million that pay for certain school programs and services.

Steve Ferguson, board president, said during a meeting on Thursday that school officials need to show their displeasure with the city’s proposed cuts and should do so formally.

“I will ask … that we write a letter expressing our opposition to cuts in these areas, and I feel that’s important to register,” Ferguson said. “That’s my opinion. I think it’s important to talk about these proposed cuts, to follow them and keep talking about them because there isn’t a student that won’t be impacted by these.”

City Council and school board members met in a joint session Oct. 17 when Cindy Giraldo, the city’s financial services director, said the city faces, “an unprecedented structural deficit projected to grow to over $27 million by fiscal year [2022-23].”

The projected shortfall is due primarily to two issues: revenue loss and escalating costs of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS.

The widening deficit may end up squeezing Burbank schools and students financially.

Overall, eight services currently paid for by the city might be transferred over to the school district, which then may or may not be able to foot the bill.

The two costliest programs are crossing guards at $466,000 and a joint-use agreement for the upkeep of the district’s fields at $435,000. The upkeep includes maintenance, security, permits, utilities, restrooms, capital improvements and repairs.

Should the city cut funding for both programs, the district might have to forego crossing guards and close facilities during after-school hours, while reducing maintenance and security staff.

In all, the city of Burbank may end up no longer paying for school district’s elections, which cost $108,000, school resource officers, who come in at $363,000 a year, after-school programs, which have a $360,000 annual price tag, school-based counseling, a $245,000 cost a year, disabled student transportation, which costs $11,000 annually and recycling bins and pick up, which run $20,000.

Although Ferguson was reminded that the city was only making proposals at this time and nothing had been finalized, his concerns were hardly mollified.

“The brainstorming phase is still pretty horrifying, Not only will students not have day care after school, they won’t have the ability to recycle a can on our school sites. As hypothetical as I think city leaders want to make this list, it’s not hypothetical,” Ferguson said.

“It’s public documents. It’s public records. It’s been discussed at several public council meetings, and our students deserve more than to have a number assigned to them and their well-being of $2 million,” he added.

Board clerk Armond Aghakhanian also called into question the city’s transparency.

“I’m hearing different numbers out there,” he said. “… Some people are saying we’re in dire need, some people are saying we’re OK.”

Aghakhanian supported Ferguson’s call for a letter, while board member Steve Frintner felt it was imperative that all five school board members review the document before it is sent out.

Board member Charlene Tabet initially expressed caution, questioning the wisdom of calling out a city council that has the power to implement cuts.

“As a member of this board, I appreciate this and I want to talk about it and know what we’re doing and be able to come up with alternatives if the city can’t provide,” Tabet said. “So, to me, sending a letter seems antagonistic — I apologize. Working with this and figuring how the best way we can overcome it, seems a more positive way to go.”

Ferguson said city officials must be made aware that the cuts would have a devastating impact.

“I don’t think this move is irresponsible to ask for a letter, and I don’t think it’s antagonistic when they put it on paper,” he said. “These are proposed cuts, and the district will not be able to pick up the cost everywhere, and we won’t also be able to fully understand the impacts of these cuts if they happen.”

Fergson noted to David Jaynes, assistant superintendent of administrative services, that perhaps the school board could help out with some cost reductions, such as finding a cheaper recycler.

There was also one item that Jaynes and some board members felt could be cut — school resource officers.

“Currently, those resource officers are being pulled to other police needs, so they’re not really very active in our schools,” Jaynes said. “At this point, what we’re doing is just calling 911 if we need services, and we’ll just continue to do that.”

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports

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