In Burbank, an anticipated increase in revenues for the school district has educators beginning a new conversation about how to improve the education of local students after years of devastating budget cuts.
On Thursday, the Burbank Unified school board will meet for a special study session — which will be open to the public — to review the budget reductions the district has weathered since 2007 and kick-start a discussion about where the district can expand its academic programs.
“We want to see where we can go,” said school board president Dave Kemp, who said Thursday’s meeting signifies the beginning of a new dialogue on restoring academic programs and perhaps employees, following a decade that has largely seen the school board examining where to make cuts in order to keep the district solvent.
“Now, we’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel [and] it’s getting a little brighter,” he said.
Burbank school officials have projected that district revenues will increase to over $91 million in fiscal year 2015-16, up from the $85.6 million expected in 2014-15.
When Kemp joined the school board in May 2003, one of the first documents he reviewed was an extensive list of recommendations for slashing $6 million districtwide. The board initially reduced its custodians, then secretaries and later, several administrator positions.
With only a couple of funding surges during the past decade, he said, the district took a turn for the worse in 2007 with the start of the economic downturn.
“It was going south rapidly from that point on,” Kemp said.
Eventually, the class sizes that were once at 20 students to one teacher in kindergarten through third grades and in ninth-grade English and math courses, increased.
The district would also hand out hundreds of layoff warnings to employees at a time. Positions left open by retiring employees were left unfilled.
Today, Kemp said morale in the district “is as good as it can possibly be” even though the district has not given raises to any of its employees since 2007. He anticipates educators will want to see the district reduce class sizes and invest in curriculum coaches, among other things.
Colleen Patterson, interim assistant superintendent of administrative services for the district, recently told school board members that they can begin to prioritize programs they want to restore because of a hike in state education funding over the next few years.
“I really see it as, ‘you’ve made it through a war zone,’ if you will,” she said.
For Lori Adams, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn., the district needs to examine giving raises to employees and providing competitive salaries and benefits to retain its current staff and recruit new employees.
Additionally, she said the district should focus on increasing staff at the schools, including adding more counselors, providing a nurse at every school site and reducing class sizes, particularly in kindergarten through third grades, where some classes have 35 students or more, she said.
“It is very difficult to reach every student every day when the classroom is overcrowded,” she said in an email.
Thursday’s study session will begin at 4 p.m. in the board room at the Burbank Unified school district headquarters, 1900 W. Olive Ave.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.