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Burbank schools make a case for help from the community

Bacon and eggs were served Wednesday morning with a slice of sobriety and a dash of hope during this year's State of the Schools Breakfast, sponsored by the Burbank Educational Foundation at the Castaway restaurant.

Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill spent a healthy portion of the get-together outlining the district's financial status and options to be considered in the wake of a $3.5-million structural deficit.

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Rising pension costs, the defeat of the district's proposed parcel tax — known as Measure QS — among voters in November, low state funding, and a qualified budget certification filed in December stating the district might not be able to meet its financial obligations for the 2020-21 school year led Hill and district staff to propose several cuts in January.

Some reductions included district staff and teacher layoffs, including three elementary school music instructors.

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"The feedback we received from Measure QS was a lot of people didn't understand our budget situation," Hill said.

"Today, I felt it was important to be direct and simple about 'This is where we are, and this how we got here,'" he added.

Some of the financial solutions Hill called for were the maximization of restricted funds and state grants, another proposed parcel tax to go before voters in 2020 and cutbacks that will hopefully be tempered by community donations.

Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill told an audience at Wednesday morning's Burbank Educational Foundation breakfast at Castaway restaurant that we make a $500 donation if he saw at least five hands raised from people also agreeing to make a charitable donation. More than five hands were raised, so Hill wrote a check for $500.

Roberta Reynolds, school board president, also called on the Burbank community to visit the website ed100.org to learn more about state funding.

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"We must continue to expand and overcome the underinvestment in public education," Reynolds said.

"We must also recruit new partners to join. It is simply not acceptable for California to be ranked 41st out of all states in per-student spending," she added.

While the main message centered on educational needs, there was also a celebration of the district's career-technical training, a surprise performance by Burbank High School's band, drumline and cheerleaders and a $10,000 matching grant from Warner Bros.

Some of the most robust applause came after Ana Connell, the foundation's vice president, announced the organization's fundraising campaign, called "Partnering for Success — All in for Burbank," had raised $82,000 since its inception in November.

Cheerleaders made an appearance at the breakfast.

"Those are primarily small donors, so this has been a huge, huge commitment from our community, and we're continuing to ask," Connell said.

That total, along with a $100,000 grant made Feb. 13 by the Burbank Arts for All Foundation, led Hill to announce he will not eliminate two of the three music positions under consideration for layoffs.

"We need about $90,000 more to be able to restore that last music teacher," Hill said. "On top of that, if we raise another $50,000, we don't have to reduce two to three college and career courses."

The foundation's fundraising total came with a bonus, as Connell announced Warner Bros. committed to give a $10,000 contribution by matching donations from individuals.

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Donations can be made at befgives.org.

Burbank High's band made an appearance at the breakfast.

Hill wasted no time to personally offer a $500 donation, though he said he wouldn't make that commitment unless at least five breakfast attendees also made a charitable contribution. Between eight and nine people raised their hands to meet Hill's challenge and make donations.

Hill also noted that financially strong districts don't just produce better students but provide more help for teachers.

The superintendent said he's fought against feedback that teachers were overpaid or only worked 10 months a year, which also drew a rebuttal from Diana Abasta, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn.

"The truth of the matter is if you don't work in the summer, you don't get paid," Abasta said of teachers.

"We're not eligible for employment benefits, so most teachers, including myself, work every summer. Rent is quite high in Burbank, and I'm not driving a fancy car. You can find my 2004 [Chevy] Malibu in the parking lot," she added.

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