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Majority of state funds, $6.8 million, to go toward school textbooks

After the Burbank school district was given a one-time allotment of $7.8 million from the state, school officials contemplated where it should go and sought public input for suggestions during a special meeting.

Weeks after the meeting, the Burbank school board approved last week spending $6.8 million of the funds, with nearly half of the amount — roughly $3 million — going toward new English language arts textbooks for the 2016-17 school year. Another $925,000 went toward math textbooks and time for 450 teachers to spend 10 hours each collaborating with each other over instruction.

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Meanwhile, school officials have yet to decide how to spend the remaining $1 million.

Burbank Supt. Matt Hill said school officials will discuss how to spend those funds again in December or March, which are the two months they usually look at the district's budget.

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Initially, the money was earmarked for employees' salaries. However, during the special meeting, there were concerns raised about spending the funds that way.

"I heard the feedback loud and clear that we didn't want to use one-time funds for ongoing positions," he said.

There were other allocations for the $6.8 million that were approved last Thursday, including $50,000 for to replace some musical instruments and purchase additional ones, $74,000 for 370 elementary teachers to meet with each other for five hours and analyze student writing, and $5,000 for each middle and high school to establish after-school robotics enrichment programs.

During the meeting, school board members debated whether $25,000 should be spent to support the Gifted and Talented Education program, known as GATE, at Burbank Unified's 11 elementary schools and three middle schools.

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School board member Steve Ferguson questioned putting the funds toward the GATE program when the school district's master plan for GATE students has not yet been fully developed, even though it is expected to be completed within the next several months.

"I don't understand why we're allocating funds without a plan. I'm having a hard time with that," Ferguson said.

Board member Larry Applebaum, who is the parent of a GATE student at John Muir Middle School, said much of the GATE funding at many of Burbank's schools were left on the backs of parents because the district has not adequately funded them in recent years.

"Let me, as a parent, give you a wake-up call you get when you're a GATE parent," Applebaum said. "We have a very robust GATE program at Muir. The problem is, there is zero funding for the program."

Applebaum also said the funds would provide more equity among schools and give GATE teachers the opportunity to attend conferences and participate in professional development that would "raise instruction," as they would serve as a "bridge" to implementing the detailed plan in the coming months.

Charlene Tabet, board president, agreed.

"I think in funding this, we're not only going to support what's currently there, but helping it to grow," she said.

Board member Roberta Reynolds said that the GATE funding set aside in the school district's Local Control and Accountability Plan, known as LCAP plan — about $20,000, so far — was not sufficient for teacher training this school year. The plan was mandated by the state and came from a group of parents and teachers who decided how state funds should be spent.

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Even so, Ferguson said he was concerned that the additional $25,000 signified "minor relief" for the program.

"This is a Band-Aid … while we get a plan in place," he said, adding later that he wondered if it would have any impact.

"I hope it has one," he said.

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