Burbank residents will decide whether to support new taxation for public schools in this upcoming fall election after Burbank Unified officials voted to place a parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot during a meeting on Thursday.
The majority of Burbank property owners would pay 10 cents per square foot per year on taxable real property. The tax is expected to generate approximately $9 million annually.
A district report states that the average Burbank resident’s home, approximately 1,700 square feet, would translate to an annual tax of $170.
Burbank Supt. Matt Hill said that despite increased state funding, the district is in danger of falling behind.
“We’re in the best economic times this state has faced, and we’re asking for local taxes to keep up,” Hill said. “We’re in one of the longest recoveries in California economic history, and [the district is] barely getting by now. If you paid attention or saw in June, for the community, our three-year budget, we barely hit the 3% minimum reserve in that third year.”
Hill added, “So, if anything goes south on us, we’re in a serious situation. That is why staff and the board are recommending [taking] this to the voters in November. We don’t have a choice.”
A parcel tax needs two-thirds voter support. If passed, an independent citizen’s oversight committee would be formed to monitor the funds.
“There are two things that have personally brought me to support this: both need and timing,” board member Steve Ferguson said. “We did extensive research. We paid for a poll to go out into the field to talk to our community, to engage with them about priorities and the priorities that they highlighted are reflected in the parcel tax priorities that I think this board has put forward.”
A May 9 report presented by Hill showed that funding would be directed toward seven areas, with the largest chunk, 30%, for “learning for all students” — a category broken down into a 2% raise for all employees, a plan to lower class sizes from kindergarten to third grade to a 24-1 ratio (current average is 30.5 students per class), implementation of a Gifted and Talented Education or GATE plan, and supplies for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, classes.
Other portions include 20% directed toward expanding college and career programs, 18% for the arts and 13% for technology.
While many areas of curriculum are slated to receive funds, others are not.
“There is no inclusion of physical education and athletics,” said Lori Little, a member of the Burbank Council PTA’s parcel tax committee study team. “A large portion of students in BUSD participate in sports that are primarily funded by parent booster groups.”
Though the PTA will not vote on whether to endorse the parcel tax until September, the committee found plenty of positives.
“We feel this parcel tax will help maintain the quality of our schools. We feel this parcel tax will help us retain and develop quality teachers and maintain smaller class sizes,” Little said. “We like the oversight committee and that this funding will be independent of the state, not under their control but under the control of the community. We feel it is designed to impact a range of educational needs for most students.”
Early indicators show the district has an uphill battle.
The Los Angeles-based research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates conducted a survey from March 23 to 28, in which it polled 1,019 registered voters.
While 71% of Burbank residents felt local schools were headed in the right direction, only 58% of voters said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax. On the flip side, 29% responded they would “definitely” not support the tax.
Also in Nov. 6, voters will have a three-quarter-cent sales tax to consider, which was placed on the ballot by the Burbank City Council.
“It’s a necessary move for our district, and I’m a homeowner,” board member Charlene Tabet said. “The average home in Burbank is 1,800 square feet, 1,700 square feet. You’re looking at $170 [a year]. If your home is bigger, it will rise up from that. I don’t mean to [say] that $170 is no big deal. For some families, it may be a big deal. It may be the difference. It’s tough. Putting it all together, it matters a lot to our schools.”