Commentary: Quality of education for Burbank’s children at heart of parcel tax proposal

After reading the comments posted by Burbank Leader readers in response to the article (“School parcel tax heads to Burbank ballot” (July 23) and an editorial cartoon the paper published on July 28, I wanted to provide some additional information to clarify three main themes that have emerged from the comments.

1. Financial situation of the district — Several comments were in reference to the financial situation of the district. First, the BUSD receives funding directly from the state and not from the city. We realize the city is facing financial challenges as well, but sales taxes do not benefit the school district. The only way for school districts to generate additional revenue is through a parcel tax. Second, the parcel tax measure will not be used for pensions. The school district currently has a balanced three-year budget that provides for increases in pension obligations. However, we do not have enough funding to provide for a cost of living wage increase or additional supports for our students. Two years ago we did not give any raises. For last year, we are still negotiating a 1.25% increase, and for this year, we do not even have enough funding from the state to offer any increase in salaries.

2. Parcel tax specifics —The proposed parcel tax measure would assess 10 cents per square foot of improved property (both commercial and residential). For 1,800 square feet of improved property, this would equate to less than 50 cents per day. Our community has worked hard to ensure our local schools are among the best in the state. In order ensure our schools remain the best, we need local funding that cannot be taken away by the state. An independent oversight committee will oversee the funds generated by this measure and independent audits will ensure the funding is spent to:

• attract and retain quality teachers and staff;

• maintain low class sizes;

• expand college and career courses;

• increase mental health supports;

• expand instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs.

3. Renters and students on permits — Other residents voiced concerns about renters and students on permits paying their fair share. Currently, 9% (1,300) of our students are on permits (one or both parents work in Burbank, but they do not live here) and the school district only accepts enough permit students to maintain annual enrollment. Each of these permit students brings $9,140 per year in state funding to the district (more if they are English learners, low-income, etc.). In addition, their parents contribute to school funding by paying state taxes, and their employers would also be paying 10 cents per square foot for this parcel tax. Based on current assessment data, commercial property owners will be paying 48% of the tax, apartment landowners will be paying 17% and residential owners will be paying 35%. For renters, it is highly likely that some portion of the increase will be passed to them. Finally, this measure includes an exemption for senior citizens age 65 or older.

The last thing the school district wants to do is ask the community to pay more taxes. However, in order to maintain and improve the quality of education for our children, we feel that we have no other choice than to put this matter on the ballot.

Matt Hill, Ed.D. is the Burbank Unified School District superintendent.