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Schools ready for the pitch

Board members organize their approach to the community for education funds.

January 09, 2010|By Max Zimbert

WEST BURBANK— Four consultants pitched competing strategies last month to the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education, but all agreed on one sticking point — consult the community.

School board members have not settled on when or what funding they will ask of voters in 2011, but they individually continue to weigh a bond extension, a parcel tax campaign or both.

Board members haven’t met since the initial meeting, or decided whether they’ll hire a consultant at all. But administrators are taking cues from the presentations to solicit feedback from the community.

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“We’re not looking to just have a blank check,” Interim Deputy Supt. Lori Ordway-Peck said. “What we’d like to do is engage with them to see what the priorities of the district are, because we’re facing some very difficult financial times.”

Burbank Unified will lose about $63 million in state funding between 2007 and 2012, and those projections will likely be more dire as legislators enact mid-year budget cuts, board member Larry Applebaum said.

“It’ll reinforce the belief that we’re not crying wolf,” he said. “There really is a problem, and I know there are some people who think the problem is only in Sacramento . . . but at the end of the day it impacts kids. And from my point of view, that’s the end result we need to focus on.”

Community meetings could generate a road map for administrators that would highlight which programs have the greatest impact on students and families.

“Patience is going to be a virtue here as we try to determine what it is we cannot do without, and then let people decide, ‘Do we want to fund this?’” school board president Dave Kemp said. “If the community wants to support these programs, they will vote for a parcel tax.”

Neighboring school districts have passed parcel taxes to keep programs afloat, and Los Angeles Unified is expected to follow suit this year.

Voters in Culver City adopted an annual $96 tax for five years that advocates said would generate $1.2 million every year for math, science and art programs. La Cañada Unified and South Pasadena Unified passed similar measures last year.

“I think most people [in Burbank] are pretty supportive of it, assuming — and that’s the big caveat — it has well-specified and well-defined scope and it’s a reasonable amount,” Applebaum said. “The bond extension is a much easier sell because it is essentially asking people to continue a tax structure that already exists.”

Taxpayers pay $44 for every $100,000 assessed to service the bond voters approved in 1997.

“Even under these horrible circumstances we’re operating with . . . there hasn’t been great effect on [students],” Kemp said. “Do we want to have programs at the same time we’re cutting teacher salaries or raising class size and things like that? That’s a long-term impact too.”


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