Burbank Unified faces grim future

Burbank Unified officials cast a dire future for local schools during a community meeting Thursday.

After years of state budget cuts, the district is preparing to slash its budget again and may lay off teachers and staff, increase class sizes and consider a shorter school year.

By the end of this school year, the district faces a $4.4-million deficit, according to Assistant Supt. Christine Statton.

By the end of 2013-14, that structural deficit is projected to jump to $6.9 million.

“A lot of people have heard ‘The sky is falling,'” Statton said. “What's happened is, it's a slow, gradual downward slope that is almost coming to a cliff right now.”

With 83% of the district's budget supporting school employees and their benefits, officials are grappling with the next stage of cuts.

Because Gov. Jerry Brown recently granted permission for state schools to shorten the next school year, Burbank Unified could reduce instruction days from 180 to 160 and save the district $9 million, officials reported.

Four teacher furlough days are on the books for this school year, Statton said. There could be more, in addition to teacher layoffs and salary cuts, in the future.

“We have yet to negotiate what may or may not occur for 2013-14,” she said.

Part of what may or may not occur could depend upon what happens at the polls next month.

If Brown's tax initiative fails in November, Burbank schools could face a $13.7-million structural deficit in 2013-14.

Since the state has delayed sending money to schools, Burbank officials have already “done a delicate dance to balance our cash flow,” Statton said.

The district has borrowed money from the Burbank Adult School, class sizes have increased, three superintendent positions became “director” positions and employees have taken pay cuts.

“One of the reasons that we've been fiscally solvent so far is because we've made some really good decisions,” said Supt. Jan Britz. “In spite of all those cuts, we are still getting very high student performance.”

Paula Trubisky, whose children attend Jefferson Elementary and Muir Middle School, said it was important for residents to understand the effects of November's tax initiatives on schools.

“It's not only for parents to understand what's going on in the school. I think it's a community issue,” she said. “We all need a strong public education system. Not just the parents with kids.”

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.

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