Accusations over a lack of transparency and a desire for independence have led Burbank Unified officials to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the district office over the fate of the Burbank Youth Vocal Arts Foundation.
At the heart of an emotional debate and vote is whether to allow the foundation, headlined by the school’s nationally acclaimed show choir program, to detach itself from the district and no longer be a school-connected organization.
The question was raised during a Burbank Unified school board meeting last Thursday but was suspended until Wednesday in order for all relevant parties to present their case.
The show choir may be the school’s most decorated and expensive program because the group travels to competitions across the country. Perhaps the pinnacle took place in 2017 when Burbank High won the 2017 Show Choir National Championship at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.
The rising cost to participate in the show choir program has left some parents and students feeling alienated, with calls for more oversight over the foundation.
School board member Charlene Tabet said on Thursday that choir fees and fundraising did not meet the program’s expectations, which led the foundation to push for independence.
“I heard that their budget was to raise $700,000 for their year, which is about average for what those choirs do, and they had got within $50,000 of their budget and that just blew apart, and they weren’t going to be able to do it this way, etc.,” Tabet said. “So, they were going to separate.”
Tabet asked for a memorandum of understanding between the board and the foundation on June 21 in regards to what a split would mean, including the foundation’s removal from the list of school organizations.
On Thursday, speakers rallied for and against the breakaway.
“If you vote for the separation, you will be disenfranchising children,” parent Lauren Applebaum said. “You will be telling them that they are not worthy of being part of a program because their parents cannot pay for it. You will be giving power to an organization that is incapable of being transparent.”
“This is so wrong on so many levels for me. I would never want my child or any child to stress that they can’t be in the Burbank High School [show] choir because their parents can’t afford it,” said Jennifer Audette, past president of the Muir Middle School Booster Assn.
Tabet added that she and district staff tried to resolve issues with the foundation previously.
“We worked with them on language for their documents — how to raise funds, how not to raise funds, we went through the gamut of everything,” Tabet said. “We wrote many of the paperwork for them to help them pass out so that they would stay within board policy, [educational] code, California ED Code, IRS laws and even ACLU requirements. I thought we were doing great.”
Charles Rodriguez, the foundation’s treasurer, said a break was best.
“We have been constrained by a lot of things in the California Education Code, and we really need to be able to fund-raise properly to be able to afford these experiences for the students,” said Rodriguez, who added that scholarships are available.
“That is what this is actually going to help us do. It’s actually going to help us raise more money so we can help more families who are in financial need,” he added. “We never deny a student the opportunity to have these experiences based on their financial circumstances.”
Board member Steve Frintner said he hoped for a solution Wednesday.
“There is a history of a very decorated choir at Burbank High School, and I have no reason to believe that that can’t continue and that it shouldn’t continue,” he said. “It should be a choir for every student who wants to participate.”