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Burbank Unified board sticks with Hill, welcomes home former board member

Burbank Unified board sticks with Hill, welcomes home former board member
Burbank Unified's school board extended the district's contract with Supt. Matt Hill, shown here at a meeting on Thursday, for three years at a base annual salary of $248,230. (Photo by James Carbone)

If there was an overriding message from the Burbank Unified school board during its meeting on Thursday, perhaps it was “welcome back.”

Or maybe “welcome home.”

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Either way, the district board did not choose change, instead voting 4-0 to approve a three-year contract extension for Supt. Matt Hill during an event that included a ceremonial contract signing.

The ink barely dried on Hill’s paperwork when he turned around and, after another unanimous board vote, signed a contract with Debbie Kukta, Burbank’s city treasurer, to become the district’s next assistant superintendent of administrative services on Aug. 1.

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“I love Burbank, I truly do,” Hill said after the meeting. “To be able to come back to the community here is amazing. We have a strong board, and I love my team, so there’s no reason for me to leave.”

Hill’s contract is extended until June 30, 2023, and does not include a pay raise. The former Los Angeles Unified administrator’s annual salary will remain at $248,230.

While a member of the public criticized Hill’s pay as being higher than that of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, his salary is lower than many of his peers.

Glendale Unified’s new Supt., Vivian Ekchian, signed a four-year deal last month for $310,000 annually, while La Cañada Supt. Wendy Sinnette is paid $255,800 per year and Pasadena Unified Supt. Brian McDonald has an annual salary of $265,000.

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“Two years in a row, I’m not taking a pay raise,” Hill said. “We’re in bad financial straits, and I’ve got to lead. Until we get out of this, I’m not taking a raise.”

Debbie Kukta smiles during a Burbank Unified school board meeting on Thursday. By a 4-0 vote, she was selected the district's next assistant superintendent of administrative services, taking over on Aug. 1.
Debbie Kukta smiles during a Burbank Unified school board meeting on Thursday. By a 4-0 vote, she was selected the district's next assistant superintendent of administrative services, taking over on Aug. 1. (Photo by James Carbone)

Hill was originally hired by the district in April 2015 during a contentious meeting that included heated comments from several teachers against the move because they thought he lacked teaching experience. Board member Dave Kemp even resigned out of frustration that night because of the teachers’ protests.

This time around, there was nary a protest.

“We’ve come a long way from the evening we did this [four] years ago or so,” said Roberta Reynolds, board president. She was also president when Hill was first hired.

”Everything that I believed that first night, you have brought to us,” she said to Hill.

While Hill doesn’t face the same level of opposition as four years earlier, the superintendent is in charge of a district that is deficit spending. Therefore, school officials are considering a second proposed parcel tax, after an initial proposed parcel tax failed narrowly, not quite receiving a two-thirds majority of support from voters last year.

However, Hill will have a new captain for his budgetary challenges as five-year veteran David Jaynes is retiring, and he’ll be replaced by Kukta.

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“I grew up in Burbank, and I have a passion for Burbank schools,” said Kukta, a former board member from 2005 to 2012. “My heart is in Burbank, and my passion is here. If I can use my expertise to come back and help Burbank Unified through some troubling financial times ahead, I’m going to do that.”

Kukta, who attended Burbank High School, John Muir Middle and Horace Mann Elementary, said one of her most significant goals will be to increase financial transparency.

“You are a perfect candidate,” said Steve Frintner, board clerk, to Kukta. “We’re happy to have you coming back to the district.”

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