Burbank Unified tries to run special programs without fees, budget

Burbank Unified is grappling with how to pay for extracurricular activities following a new state law that prohibits schools from charging students fees to participate in sports, musical programs and other things.

The legislation came after the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to settle a lawsuit it filed against state education officials claiming that the fees violated California's constitution, which guarantees a free public education.

John Burroughs High School was among schools named in the lawsuit.

With the spigot for that revenue stream now turned off, Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz said schools are making adjustments.

Parents were once automatically charged about $150 in transportation fees when their child joined a sports team. The fees were used to help offset the travel cost to away games.

The use of three buses in one night to send freshman, junior varsity and varsity football teams to an away game, for instance, could now cost the district upward of $1,000 — no small change as officials struggle to overcome state education funding cuts.

“The school budget obviously doesn't have that [money] because we've been cut 20% in just the last three years,” Britz said.

Burbank educators are now having to think outside the box to solicit donations. Sports programs make “spirit packs” — a basket that could cost from $100 to $200 and contain a shirt, beanie and other items.

Home economics classes no longer charge $25 for materials. And voluntary donations now help pay for $1,500 in costumes for the district's performing arts programs.

“It's a challenge,” Britz said of accumulating donations. “We are not getting what we used to.”

Emilio Urioste, director of secondary education, said organizations and teams set goals to reach collective fundraising goals.

“The concept is community-based fundraising,” he said.

That means sports teams have had to devote more resources to hitting their fundraising targets.

“With the spirit packs for sports, we've had conversations with teams: ‘You may not include a beanie and a nicer polo shirt. You may have to scale down that spirit pack because your fundraising goal is not coming in as you anticipate,'” Urioste said.

In Glendale, Deputy Supt. John Garcia said the district has made minor changes.

In elementary schools, where parents were once asked to supply children with a specific list of items requested by teachers, donations now fill in the gap.

“This most recent legislation did not come as a surprise to us, given what was happening,” Garcia said. “We feel very comfortable with where we are.”

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.

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