The Burbank Teachers Assn. this week called on the school board to tap into the district’s cash reserve to ease proposed cuts to programming and salaries and benefits.
The comments, made during the school board meeting Thursday, came against the backdrop of ongoing contract negotiations between the teachers’ union and the district. On the table is a 2.5% salary reduction, the suspension of regular salary increases and the elimination of three staff development days.
Union President Lori Adams said that keeping the reserve balance at 6% of the district’s annual operating budget would leave Burbank students and staff to absorb cuts that would diminish the quality of education. She suggested that school board members lower the reserve to 4%, freeing up money that could be applied to balancing the budget.
The district’s annual operating budget stands at $120 million.
“When it comes down to it, you still have a 6% reserve, which is a board policy,” Adams said. “The state requires 3%. They allow you go down a little lower. We could be using that to alleviate some of these cuts.”
Adams also chided district officials for releasing a 184-day work calendar which she said prematurely eliminates three staff development days from the 2011-12 school year. The union previously filed a grievance with Supt. Stan Carrizosa that argued that the 184-day calendar was a violation of their contract.
State- and county-level education officials have indicated that cuts to education funding may not be as severe as previously projected, and that districts should prepare to receive funding comparable to that of 2010-2011, Adams said.
“We contend that the funding is still there, that it is a choice to negotiate whether [the professional development days] go away or not,” Adams said. “We could do this on a temporary basis versus a permanent contract change.”
Burbank teachers have been able to effectively use professional development days to ensure they are offering students a well-balanced and coherent curriculum, said Burbank High School teacher Diana Abasta.
“Without those days, you are asking teachers to go in and start planning on Day 1,” Abasta said.
But district officials countered that the flat funding levels were not a guarantee, and like other programming “extras,” staff development days might have to be eliminated.
“From our point of view, we have to be a little more conservative in our thinking than the employee groups,” said board member Dave Kemp. “It is easy for everyone to say, ‘Yeah, we are definitely going to get it, let’s go ahead and let’s spend it right now.’ But it is not a definite we are going to get it. There is a possibility we may not.”
The district has been deficit spending for the past two years, with expenses outstripping income by $3.5 million each year.
Even if funding levels remain flat, the district would still need to implement cuts that stem the deficit spending, he said.
“Our responsibility here is to try and wisely use the funds available in our fund balance and make decisions that allow for the kids to be educated as best we can provide,” board member Larry Applebaum said.