What do you mean we don’t have that??

By Jamie Butterworth, BUSD Parent, Volunteer, & Visual Arts Teacher

“What do you mean we don’t have that!?”

That was my reaction, as well as the reaction of other new parents, when our children started kindergarten in 2002.  What do you mean there is no art teacher?  Wait, the kids don’t get any music?  There’s no librarian??  No nurse?? No PE teachers?? And we’re in a budget crisis and have to make cuts!?!?  From WHAT?!?

I could not believe that was the state of public elementary education in our community, in our state, in one of the largest economies in the world.  In sharing my disbelief with friends and neighbors who had lived in California for a lot longer than we had, they told me that when Prop 13 passed in 1978, it changed education funding forever.  In case you don’t know, Prop 13 limited increases in property taxes (to 1976 levels) and changed the law so that any property tax increases – state or local – had to pass voter approval by a 2/3 majority — something that is very hard to do and one of the reasons that Burbank’s recent Measure QS ( Quality Schools) didn’t pass, but Measure P (for the City) did. Because QS was associated with a tax on property, it had to have the 2/3 vote, whereas Measure P only had to have a simple majority of 50% to raise our sales tax from 9.5% to 10.25%.

One conversation I had with a neighbor back in 2002 gave me a clear example and made me realize what a horrible fiscal impact Prop 13 had actually had.  She and her husband bought their house in the 1960’s for $22,000, and in 2002 paid around $600 a year in property taxes (and probably not much more than that now 17 years later – rates can’t increase more that 2% per year). She told me her property would stay at the same tax basis when they pass away and leave the house to their son, too.  We had just recently bought our house for about $240,000 (I know, I’m glad we bought when we did!), and our taxes were around $4,000 a year.  We were paying about $3,400 more in taxes per year for basically the same property!  I started adding up the number of people on our street who had also probably lived there since the 60’s or 70’s and would have a similar tax rate.  Just on my one block of my one street in our little neighborhood surrounding our home elementary school, I added up a difference of about $50,000.  Multiply that tax difference by every block on every street in every neighborhood in our little town of Burbank, and that’s a lot of money!! …that doesn’t go to our schools… 🙁  (I’m not debating the pros and cons of Prop 13, just pointing out the fiscal impact it’s had on money going to support schools.)

I didn’t grow up in California, but from what I understand, before the effects of Prop 13, our California public schools were some of the best in the country, spending about $1,000 more per pupil than the average of other states.  There were art and music teachers, dance and orchestra programs starting in elementary school, nurses and PE teachers, field trips, vocational programs, GATE enrichment, counselors, librarians and funded libraries! Since Prop 13 – which the year after it passed decreased property tax revenue by 60% – we have trailed well below the average.

At the same time that the amount of available funding was decreasing, there were lawsuits against the state challenging the equity of school funding.  Because schools were funded by local property taxes, the amount of funding varied wildly based on the district (imagine Crenshaw’s property values/taxes vs. Beverly Hills’).  It was decided that all the property taxes would go to the state and then be redistributed equally to each district.  This was more equitable but took decision-making away from local districts.

Anyway, that’s old news.  Fast forward to the 2000’s…We were going through an education funding crisis when my oldest child started school in 2002; pink slips went out, class sizes went up.  We went through it again with the recession of 2008 and struggled to maintain the progress we had just started to make on our district’s Arts for All plan.

The past few years have been better, with more state funding and a change in policy giving stakeholders in local districts more control over how money is spent. This is called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), where each district creates its own LCAP, or the Local Control Accountability Plan.  This has allowed us the choice to fund some of those things I mentioned earlier which had disappeared over the decades. But roller coasters go up and down, and such it is with California public school funding.

For 2019-2020, our district, as well as many others in California, is facing a budget deficit again! To the tune of about $3.5 million in Burbank, and we will be short that amount again each year for the next few years.  “Why?” you ask, when the stock market is strong?  “Why?” when we’re not in a recession?  Well, this little video explains it much better than I can: https://bit.ly/2ON90r7 

It has to do with the way that teachers, administrators, and school personnel pensions are funded.  After the great recession, the “pool” of money that pays retirement benefits was drained, and the state passed the Pension Reform Law, mandating that employees and local school districts pay a larger portion to refill the pool. Local school districts’ responsibility has been going up incrementally, from covering 7% in 2013-14 to having to cover 20% in 2020-2021! Even though we’ve been getting more money from the state, it’s not enough to cover the growing pension payments, and they are an obligation (i.e. mandatory), so the money has to come from programs and teachers’ salaries, and we are once again left debating our priorities.

So, what can be done? 

Many communities have passed parcel taxes to help make up the difference.  As I mentioned, Burbank had one on the ballot in November 2018 that was narrowly defeated with 64.33% of the 66.7% percent of votes needed (only 938 short).  Burbank will try to pass a parcel tax again in 2020.  Be on the lookout and help educate others that, as much as we all dislike additional taxes, this is much needed funding.

Some of our local non-profits have stepped up to help out:

Burbank Education Foundation began the “All in for Burbank Schools“ campaign to help raise money to cover the $3.5 million deficit. So far, they have raised over $100,000 and are continuing to take donations. If you have not already donated (or even if you have), please click here and consider doing that now.

The Burbank Arts for All Foundation made its largest one-time grant in the amount of $100,000 to the district to support the elementary music program in this time of financial crisis.  The Foundation continues its work of the past 12 years of fundraising for the arts in our schools and advocating for arts education.  If you have not become a member of the Burbank Arts for All Foundation, please click here to also do that now.

If you want more information and want to know what you can do to be part of the solution, I’d like to invite anyone/everyone reading this to come to the conversation!  There will be a Community Exchange hosted by the Burbank Arts for All Foundation on Wednesday, May 8 from 9:30-11:30 at the Burbank Community Services Building – Community Room 104 at 150 N Third Street. (Please RSVP to Saundra Montijo at saundra@burbankartsforall.org so we can make sure to have enough seats.). Click here for more details!

This isn’t the sexy part of volunteering with the arts.  I was hoping to write a blog post about all the fabulous experiences I’ve had with the arts – volunteering and teaching — over the past 17 years.  I actually get very sleepy around this kind of talk and just want to stick my head in the sand and take a nap there until this crisis blows over.  But, seeing as how there is some budgeting crisis every few years, it sure would be nice if we could stabilize California’s school funding so ALL our children would have a consistently well-rounded education that included the arts, nurses, counselors, field trips…and all those other things that should be a given and not the “What do you mean we don’t have that!?” surprise to new parents coming into our schools.

Jamie Butterworth was honored with Burbank Arts for All Foundation’ s Champion of the Arts Award at the 2014 Party for the Arts Gala. Below, please find the video shown at the event, highlighting the amazing work that Jamie (as well as our other 2014 honorees!) has done to support arts education for all students in BUSD:

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