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Cuts likely in Burbank Unified’s future after QS defeat

Cuts likely in Burbank Unified’s future after QS defeat
Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill has the tough task of investigating potential program cuts after the district's parcel tax, Measure QS, was defeated in the polls on Tuesday. (File Photo)

Increased classroom sizes, cuts to music and arts programs, and potential layoffs may be on the horizon for the Burbank Unified School District after the Measure QS parcel tax failed to gain a two-thirds majority needed to pass at the polls Wednesday.

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According to the unofficial count, 16,354 Burbank residents, or 61.68%, voted “yes” on Measure QS, while 10,161, or 38.82%, opposed it.

The district board and Supt. Matt Hill responded to the measure’s defeat via a joint email.

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“While Measure QS did not attain the 66.7% threshold as required by law, we greatly appreciate the support of the nearly 62% of voters who were willing to increase their financial commitment to Burbank’s schools,” according to the statement. “This was, by far, the greatest demonstration of public support for Burbank’s schools that the district has ever seen with 16,354 votes and counting.”

The measure would have generated a little over $9 million to the district annually, and it would have cost the average Burbank homeowner approximately $170 per year.

Former Burbank Unified board president Larry Applebaum, the leading voice on the “No” on QS campaign, was hardly in a celebratory mood.

“This isn’t congratulations for me because I have very mixed feelings,” Applebaum said. “I know the district needs the money, but I just disagreed with how they were going to implement it and I couldn’t support it.”

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That money would have paid for several district projects, such as purchasing new band uniforms and repairing musical instruments, along with hiring some personnel, such as counselors.

Perhaps no group was more hurt by the defeat of Measure QS than district employees.

“We knew that the two-thirds hurdle was a nearly impossible task, but we came tantalizingly close to climbing that mountain,” said Diana Abasta, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn., in a statement. “More than six out of 10 Burbank voters believe that spending more tax dollars on Burbank schools is a good investment.”

Roughly $3.3 million of the funds would have been directed toward teachers and staff for a one-time 3% raise.

With the denial, Burbank teachers will remain among the lowest paid in Los Angeles County. A report released in June by the county’s office of education listed the district as 46th, or dead last, in spending the smallest total gross dollars for raises for credentialed teachers over the past three years.

On Oct. 18, district officials announced a contingency plan should the parcel tax fail that included a heading titled “potential reductions.”

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The list included cutting such items as teacher professional development, elementary music instruction, middle and high school arts, college and career courses, gifted and talented education and the elementary physical education program, along with the elimination assistant principal positions.

The cuts will likely be made because the district is operating with a $1.14-million structural deficit that is anticipated to grow to $3.14 million in 2020-21.

“We’re forecasting for the 2018-19 school year around a $2.5-million structural deficit,” Hill said in a phone interview.

Hill said the district would look at all possible ways to close that gap via grants and possible fundraisers. However, he said the time to look for potential cuts has started.

Although Burbank Unified received an additional $2.9 million from the state in local control funding for the 2017-18 school year, that money was spent on increased payments to retirement plans CalSTRS ($1.36 million) and CalPERS ($432,202) along with other obligations, according to the district’s latest budget report.

For his part, Applebaum said he looks forward to working with district personnel to find a solution, which could mean a new proposed parcel tax in two years or a ballot initiative.

“It’s going to be OK, and [the district] is going to have to make a few tough decisions,” Applebaum said. “We’re all going to hunker down and figure out a way to move forward and all work together cooperatively.”

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