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What A Smelly High School Band Uniform Has To Do With Burbank's Measure QS

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Burbank High Senior Yulissa Garcia holds a band uniform. Her band has stopped wearing the white overlay because it has gotten so dirty. (Carla Javier/LAist)
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It can be hard to understand long, complicated ballot measures. But you can get an idea about the one on Burbank's Tuesday ballot by rummaging through a closet full of old band uniforms.

If passed, Measure QS would create an annual 10 cents-per-square-foot parcel tax on "improvements" (more about that in a second). The revenue could go to the school district to pay for things like teacher raises, special education, safety upgrades and arts education, including band uniforms.

Arts education is a big deal for Burbank High senior Yulissa Garcia, who is in her school's band.

"When someone rips their uniform, it's a big deal because they're just so expensive," Garcia said. "We can only get it dry cleaned once every year, and the smell is just unbearable sometimes."

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It's hard to get younger potential members interested in joining the band, she said, when the uniforms are kind of ... gross.

And that's important in Burbank. In a town full of movie studios and other businesses related to the entertainment industry, the future of arts education matters.

Over six in 10 likely Burbank voters polled in March by the school district said it's either extremely or very important to them that the district improve and expand upon its arts and music offerings.

The district is looking to expand those offerings too - and to replace the old, sweaty uniforms - but doing so, of course, requires money -- money the district says it doesn't have because it has to chip in for teacher pensions.

That's where Measure QS could come in.

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Purple signs are popping up around Burbank for and against Measure QS, which would create a parcel tax to raise funds for the school district. (Carla Javier/LAist)

WHAT WOULD MEASURE QS DO?

Measure QS would provide one way to raise the funds. If passed, it'd cost Burbank property owners 10 cents per square foot of "improvements" -- like a house or other building - a year, starting July 1, 2019. That would create an estimated $9 million a year in additional funds for the school district.

The money is supposed to be used for one of five purposes outlined in the measure's language:

  • "attract and retain quality teachers and staff"
  • "maintain low class sizes in grades TK-3"
  • "expand college and career courses"
  • "increased mental health support"
  • "expand instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs"

You can read a draft budget from May, provided by the district, of how those $9 million a year could be spent. Though to be sure, some of the numbers are out of date: For example, teacher raises could be closer to 3 percent, while the draft budget accounts for a 2 percent raise.

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We have more information about Measure QS in our Voter Game Plan.

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Burbank High junior Isabella Cardenas holds a new french horn provided by her school. She says before, she had to play an old, broken french horn. (Carla Javier/LAist)

HOW DID THE DISTRICT GET TO THIS POINT?

It's complicated, but long story short: Burbank Unified has to chip in to pay teacher pensions. It says that means it's running out of money for other things - like teacher raises, arts ed and professional development, to name a few.

Burbank Unified Superintendent Matt Hill can't advocate for or against the measure. But he did bring it up during his budget update at an Oct. 18 school board meeting.

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(You can watch it on the district's website. Hill starts speaking about 2:24:00 into this recording.)

He listed ways the district could increase revenues, like working to get the state government to increase education funding, getting foundation grants and raising money locally through something like a parcel tax.

"If you can't increase revenue, we're gonna be looking at raising class sizes ... cutting programs and services to students, or just freeze compensation," Hill said at the meeting.

He said the list of things that might have to be cut includes professional development offerings for teachers, assistant principal positions, elementary music, middle and high school arts, college and career courses - like animation and stage tech, the gifted program and elementary physical education programs.

He said the cuts probably wouldn't be all or nothing, but they would amount to about $2.3 to $2.5 million in annual spending.

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Burbank High senior Yulissa Garcia said band members take off the front portion when they perform because the uniforms are old, they're covered in stains and are no longer white. On top of all that, the tassels are broken. (Carla Javier/LAist)

WHAT DO THE ARTS - AND BAND UNIFORMS - HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?

Burbank schools have a reputation among California school districts for their arts education offerings. They've made a plan to give every student access to "high-quality, standards-based sequential arts education programming" from before kindergarten all the way to high school graduation. They haven't met the goal yet, but they're on their way.

Other arts programs and school districts have singled out Burbank to me over the past year as an example they want to follow.

"If Measure QS does not pass, I do feel like that status would be in jeopardy,"

Superintendent Hill told me.

The emphasis on the arts is apparent in the draft budget of how Burbank Unified could use the approximately $9 million per year generated by the parcel tax. Aside from the more predictable places the funding could go - teacher raises, professional development and technology - about 18 percent of the funds, or roughly $1.6 million a year, would go towards the arts.

That would include elementary music teachers, middle and high school teaching artists, instrument repair and, yes, replacing band uniforms.

WHO'S FOR IT? WHO'S AGAINST IT?

To keep using the band uniforms as an example: Supporters and opponents of Measure QS agree that there needs to be a way to fund things like that, but they disagree on where those funds should come from and how they should be collected.

The Burbank Teachers Association, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO all support the measure.

There's little organized opposition, though some former members of the Burbank Unified school board, former district employees, business owners and retired teachers have signed official statements against Measure QS.

Anita Schackmann, a retired Burbank Unified middle school teacher and administrator, supports the measure.

For her, it's important that the money would be raised locally and stay local.

"I just think we don't have the time to not do it," Schackmann added. "We need to make sure we protect our investment and take care of our students and our staff members and our community in the way that we can so easily do through Measure QS."

Larry Applebaum, a former Burbank Unified Board of Education member and president, is the measure's most vocal and visible opponent.

Applebaum isn't against the idea of a parcel tax per se. In fact, he also points to the district's financial straits and the need to find more funding, including for the arts.

He's just against this particular parcel tax.

"Measure QS is the right measure with the wrong construct," Applebaum said.

He worries that the measure doesn't have a "sunset clause," meaning the tax would be open-ended, and that the draft budget includes teacher raises.

"By giving any of the money as salaries, you've constrained yourself, no matter what anyone says, to eventually using all of it for salaries," he argued.

"Consequently, the District will have to ask voters to pass another bond issue in the future," Applebaum and two other former board members wrote in the official argument against Measure QS.

Some opponents have a more fundamental disagreement with the measure. Eric Michael Cap, who maintains a blog about Burbank, said Measure QS would place "an unfair burden" on Burbank property owners.

"Political pressure must be brought to bear at the State level to either provide More Funding to the district or Relax the onerous Mandatory Pension payments," he wrote on iLuvBurbank.com.

Applebaum said he'd like to see a different parcel tax, one designed to fund the district's pension obligations. That would free up the money the district had budgeted for pensions, he said.

"Which then means it can be used on the kids of today, which is what it was intended for," Applebaum said. "It could be used on whatever you wanted," he emphasized, including the arts (and, yes, the uniforms).

WHAT DOES IT NEED TO PASS?

Two-thirds of voters have to vote "yes" on Measure QS for it to pass. It's a steep hill, even more so than the 55 percent needed for Measure S in 2013, a $110 million bond to upgrade and renovate facilities that Applebaum threw his support behind.

Schackmann, who is knocking on doors in support of the bill, said she's hopeful.

"I know that two-thirds has to approve it, and it's not lost on me that it's an overwhelming responsibility," she said. "I'm going to choose to believe that our voters will see the value and continue the strong legacy of support for Burbank schools."

Applebaum is expressing his opposition mainly through social media, showing up at school board meetings and town halls and reaching out to individuals. "I don't have as much of a threshold to get to as they do," he said.

Still, if Measure QS passes, Applebaum said he'll apply for membership on the oversight committee that would be set up.

And if it fails?

"I'm going to work on trying to lay the groundwork to make the next [proposed parcel tax] successful," he said.


Get ready for the Nov. 6 election. Here at LAist, we want to make sure Angelenos have all the information they need to cast their votes. To get prepped on deadlines, candidates and ballot measures, check out our Voter Game Plan. And if you liked this election guide, consider supporting us! You can donate here.