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Former state PTA president visits Burbank, speaks of funding issues

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Carol Kocivar speaks during a Community Engagement Night, hosted by the Burbank Council Parent Teacher Assn., at Luther Burbank Middle School on Wednesday.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

Over the past two years, members of the Burbank Unified educational community have tried and, at times, failed to convince residents of the funding challenges facing the local school district.

The 7,405-member Burbank Council Parent-Teacher Assn. took another approach Wednesday, inviting former state PTA president Carol Kocivar to speak at Luther Burbank Middle School about funding obstacles.

“What we have today are school districts struggling to meet the needs of their kids,” Kocivar said to about 100 attendees.

“People have to understand it’s a zero-sum game. If you don’t have enough revenue and you have more expenses, your ability to provide services is diminishing,” she added.

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The attorney and journalist said there are four issues that people should be aware of: California doesn’t fund schools adequately, more funding is geared toward “needier children,” costs have dramatically risen over the last decade and school districts need more help with communal issues, such as housing, healthcare and food.

Kocivar said figures varied widely on funding in California, with Gov. Gavin Newsom recently saying California was 41st in funding nationwide.

The amount of money the state spends has a direct correlation to success, Kocivar said, with California being ranked 37th and 38th in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report and WalletHub, respectively.

Kocivar said California spends, on average, about $12,000 per student, but critical context is missing.

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“How much money do we give adjusted for inflation, cost of living and regional differences?” she asked.

“When we talk about funding, we have to talk about how much your money buys,” she added.

Kocivar compared the ability of a school district in Iowa versus California if both received a $300,000 grant.

Kocivar said an Iowa school district, which pays its teachers $50,000 a year, could hire four teachers, a counselor and a librarian. She then compared that purchasing power to the Golden State.

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Burbank Unified School Board Vice President Armond Aghakhanian takes a picture of Carol Kocivar as she starts her presentation at a Community Engagement Night, hosted by the Burbank Council Parent Teacher Assn., at Luther Burbank Middle School on Wednesday.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

“If I’m in California and I have $300K, what can I buy?” she asked. “I can buy three teachers.”

Kocivar provided a crash course on how funding changed in and around the time of the passage of Proposition 13, along with the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, in 2013, which is currently used.

“After many, many years, [former Gov. Jerry] Brown and a whole bunch of people said, ‘You know what? This system isn’t working,’” Kocivar said. “We’ve got to make sure that local communities can make decisions on how the money is spent.”

While the LCFF returned some autonomy and dollars back to local school districts, Kocivar said the state added a trio of new concerns: pensions, special-education funding and healthcare costs.

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“In the last 10 years, your healthcare costs have doubled, your pensions have doubled and special-education needs have doubled, plus a lot of districts have declining enrollment,” Kocivar said.

“What hasn’t doubled, though, is your revenue,” she added.

Steve Frintner, clerk on the school board, said he appreciated Kocivar’s history lesson.

“We spend a lot of time here talking about our specific needs and how it affects our district,” Frintner said. “I think it helps people hear from a big-picture perspective as to how we got here.”

It’s no coincidence the funding chat on Wednesday materialized in the same month the Burbank Council PTA endorsed the district’s parcel-tax proposal, set to appear on the ballot this March.

If passed, the parcel tax would add $9.1 million in annual revenue to the district at an average cost of $170 per year for Burbank homeowners.

“We have a lot of people with misinformation in the community about how things are funded and it was nice to have Carol here to break this down,” Burbank Council PTA president Wendi Harvel said.

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