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Classified employees in short supply at Burbank Unified

The headquarters for the Burbank Unified School District on Olive Avenue in Burbank on Wednesday, Fe
A 27-page report by Debbie Kukta, Burbank Unified’s new assistant superintendent of administrative services, says the district lacks classified employees.
(File Photo)

This is the second of a two-part series evaluating a financial report from Debbie Kukta, Burbank Unified’s assistant superintendent of administrative services.

A common refrain heard during Burbank Unified School District meetings and fundraisers is how exceptional the district’s schools and personnel are, including teachers, staff, students and administrators.

In fact, Burbank’s public school system is often cited as the main reason residents move to the Media City.

Rising vacation accruals and overseeing overtime at the Burbank Unified School District are listed as “areas to watch.”
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Yet, a 27-page report presented last month by Debbie Kukta, the district’s new assistant superintendent of administrative services, suggests there is ample room for improvement, particularly in the area of staffing.

Burbank Unified’s 17 schools are understaffed by classified employees, such as custodians, office managers and cafeteria workers, and by school-site administrators such as assistant principals, according to the report.

Kukta, the former Burbank city treasurer, agreed before her hire Aug. 1 she would evaluate Burbank Unified’s operations, finances, policies and procedures in an effort to better understand the district.

One area Kukta reviewed, along with analytics and finances, was Burbank Unified’s staffing numbers in comparison to districts of a similar size.

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Kukta presented her findings to the board last month in a “First 100 Days” report and PowerPoint presentation based off a Comparative Analysis of District Income and Expenditures report issued by Schools Services of California, a public education advocacy group, for the 2017-18 school year.

Burbank, with an enrollment of 15,203 students, according to the latest California Department of Education figures, was compared to 20 similarly sized districts throughout the state, give or take about 3,000 students.

Those districts included nearby Pasadena (17,748) and Alhambra (16,531) but also Northern California’s Pleasanton (14,978) and Central California’s Porterville (14,205).

School Services compared Burbank Unified to those 20 districts individually and as an aggregate total along with an average for all state unified school districts for a total of 23 entries.

Burbank finished 12th or worse in nine of the report’s 11 staffing categories such as student enrollment per classified employee and per level administrator.

The district performed worst in its ratio of students to classified employees.

Burbank Unified was ranked 14th out of 23 in student enrollment per clerical employee, 21st in enrollment per other classified employee and 21st in student enrollment per all classified employees.

During the 2017-18 school year, Burbank Unified employed one classified nonclerical worker per every 68.70 students, well below the comparative group rate of 52.78.

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The district would need to hire an additional 66 employees just to reach the comparative average.

“So, we are spread thin in that category,” Kukta said.

The study shows the district is lacking in all classified employees as it averages one staffer for every 30.06 students, a bit off the comparative average of one per 24.87 students. Burbank Unified would need to hire 103 classified workers to catch up to the state comparative average for like-sized districts.

One key issue hampering Burbank Unified’s ability to hire and hold onto classified employees is the relatively low pay, according to Supt. Matt Hill.

Hill said several of the district’s 856 classified employees represented by the California School Employees Assn. were being paid, “at minimum wage or barely above,” and that he was “embarrassed” when the board agreed to a 1% raise in November.

Burbank Unified was ranked 20th out of 23 comparative districts with one administrator per every 474.90 students, below the average of 399.27.

“We acknowledge that maybe this an area where we are understaffed,” Kukta said.

More than 20 Jefferson Elementary teachers, staff, parents and students spoke at a budget study session Jan. 24 at the Burbank Adult School imploring the district not to eliminate a vacant assistant principal position at Jefferson as part of $3.5 million in budget cuts for the deficit-spending district.

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Despite pleas, board members voted for the position’s termination in June, along with the district’s director of secondary education.

Hill acknowledged at November’s meeting that Burbank was further off staffing projections than what Kukta was presenting. He reminded the school board her report was for the 2017-2018 school year, “before we cut and froze the three assistant principals,” Hill said of positions at Miller and Jefferson elementary schools and Luther Burbank Middle School.

“We’re much worse than that now,” he said.

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