Burbank School Board candidates

The five candidates running for a seat on the Burbank School Board answered questions to a packed Buena Vista Library audience. (Photo by Ross A. Benson / January 31, 2013)

Burbank Unified's most pressing issues were up for debate Thursday during a forum that called on five school board candidates vying for two seats to address the budget woes of Burbank schools and suggest ways to improve student success.

The forum, hosted by the Burbank Chamber of Commerce and Burbank Business Partners, brought out a standing-room-only crowd of 70 people at the Buena Vista Library, where the $110-million Measure S bond began the discussion.

The measure is on the March 5 ballot and would generate funds to maintain and improve schools.

All five candidates voiced support for the bond and its potential to update school facilities and add technology to Burbank classrooms.

Moderators included former Burbank school board members Elena Hubbell and Richard Raad, who asked candidates about their solutions for the district's budget challenges.

Incumbent Larry Applebaum said he would combat the schools' growing deficit by renegotiating current agreements with the district's bargaining units to slow reserve spending.

“I think that's really the short-term program we're going to have to do because the state isn't going to be solving the problem any time soon,” he said.

Burbank school officials have said the district faces an estimated $6-million structural deficit in 2013-14; roughly 80% of the overall budget relies on the state.

“We really are stuck,” David Dobson said.

“We need to work with our state Legislature and our assemblymen and senators to find ways for them to also fix the state problem. If we can fix the state problem, then ours are a lot easier.”

Steve Ferguson — who had previously suggested the district televise finance committee meetings and hold town hall meetings to review quarterly financial reports — stomped on Dobson's plan to leave the budget solution up to the state.

“I think if we keep waiting for the state to solve all of their problems, we're going to be shut down pretty quickly,” Ferguson said, adding that he would begin “building coalitions” around the deficit and rely on district accountability.

Woodbury University professor Armond Aghakhanian said he would revamp the Burbank Education Foundation to raise money through donations to be matched by large company donors.

He would also use potential Measure S funds to transform buildings to be energy-saving LEED structures with solar panels, and he favored students using more digital screens in the classroom to save on paper costs.

“The amount of money we're going to save on paper — it's going to be amazing,” he said.

Charlene Tabet said she would rely on residents for financial support and the Measure S bond to construct solar panels.

“We have to help out our schools. We just can't stand around and watch anymore,” she said.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.