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County letter urges Burbank, Glendale school boards to address their deficits

County letter urges Burbank, Glendale school boards to address their deficits
An L.A. County Office of Education letter warned Burbank's and Glendale's districts to “make fiscal challenges a priority” or face a potential county "intervention." Since that letter, Burbank proposed layoffs and Glendale dismissed superintendent Winfred B. Roberson Jr. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Perhaps no documents have spurred more action recently in terms of budgeting and job losses at local schools than two letters sent from Candi Clark, chief financial officer with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, to the Burbank and Glendale unified school districts.

A letter addressed to each board president, mailed Jan. 14 and obtained through a public record’s request, warned both deficit-spending districts to “make fiscal challenges a priority” otherwise face a potential county “intervention.”

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Both school districts have until March 18 to file a second interim budget with the Los Angeles County Office of Education that addresses their shortcomings or risk more county involvement.

“The county superintendent has the authority to intervene when a school district shows signs of fiscal distress,” Clark wrote in both letters. “Intervention can include the assignment of a fiscal expert or fiscal advisor with stay rescind and authority.”

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Within two weeks of the arrival of the letters, Glendale Unified officials dismissed Supt. Winfred B. Roberson Jr., who had held the post for three years, and Burbank Unified proposed cutting staff and teaching positions.

“Past leadership hasn’t really given us a clear picture on our financial position and didn’t make a concerted effort to make changes,” Glendale Unified board president Greg Krikorian said of his district. “Now, this letter from the county we received, for us to make these adjustments by March 18 is going to put a strain on our community.”

The Los Angeles County Office of Education’s letters came after both districts filed qualified budgets at the first interim report in December for the 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

School districts can file three types of certifications: positive, qualified or negative.

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A positive rating means a district can meet its financial obligations all three years, a negative certification means it cannot, and a qualified status means it’s not certain if it can meet financial obligations.

Burbank and Glendale are six of 80 LACOE kindergarten-through-high school districts that filed qualified budgets this past December.

Burbank is operating with a $3.5-million structural deficit, made worse in November by the defeat of Measure QS, the district’s 10-cents-per-square-foot proposed parcel tax that would have raised nearly $9 million annually.

On Jan. 24, Burbank Supt. Matt Hill held a budget study session during which layoffs, including three elementary school music teaching positions, were proposed, along with other cuts.

Since November, Hill has been calling for the community to help offset cuts through donations and has found success.

The Burbank Arts for All Foundation made its largest-ever district donation of $100,000 on Feb. 13 to pay the salary of one music teacher and help fund another. The Burbank Educational Foundation is also fundraising and had $70,000 in its coffers as of Monday.

During a Burbank Unified board meeting on Thursday, school officials adopted a resolution that called for layoffs. Only one elementary music teaching position was listed, though, due to fundraising efforts.

Burbank also received good news from the revised state budget released by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month.

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The district’s cost-of-living adjustment rose from 2.7% to 3.46% for the 2019-20 school year, which roughly translates into an extra $1 million for Burbank Unified’s budget.

Sacramento is also proposing to help with CalSTRS, the retirement pension for teachers and certified staff, by dropping the district’s rate 1%, from 18.13% and 19.10% for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, respectively, to 17.13% and 18.10%.

“We’re in the process of fundraising and seeing how much money we can also get from grants,” Hill said Thursday evening. “We’ll have a final update at a special meeting on March 14.”

While Burbank filed its second qualified budget in as many years, the qualified certification shocked members of Glendale Unified’s board.

Krikorian said he thought it had been the first time since the Great Recession his district has filed a qualified budget.

“We, as a board, for the past 20 years … have been financially prudent and responsible,” he said. “To be in a situation where our enrollment is declining, our reserves are dwindling, where spending has gone up, this is all a surprise. We’re going to have to deal with it.”

That surprise was a harbinger for a bigger shock when Krikorian and board members Shant Sahakian and Armina Gharpetian led the charge for Roberson’s dismissal via a 3-2 vote during a Jan. 29 special board meeting.

Before Roberson was let go, the board voted for a solvency plan in December that called for $5 million in cuts for the 2019-20 school year with no layoffs.

Stephen Dickinson, Glendale Unified’s chief business and financial officer, presented another proposal Feb. 5 that called for $10 million in cuts spread out over the next two school years as Glendale is operating with a $6.13-million deficit this school year.

Glendale Unified also received a boost from the governor’s revised budget of $3.3 million, according to district projections, from increased state funding and decreased CalSTRS expenses.

That total was factored into a new two-year proposal of cuts totaling $6.83 million for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

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Glendale Unified will host a public forum at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss future cuts, which may include staffing reductions due to lower enrollment.

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