Matt Hill named Burbank Unified superintendent amid controversy
Vanessa Romo | April 17, 2015
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for the LA School Report newsletter.
The Burbank Unified School District voted overwhelmingly yesterday to appoint Matt Hill as its Superintendent, but only after a long and emotional meeting during which board members endured a slew of impassioned criticism from Burbank teachers.
Long-time Board Member Dave Kemp became so frustrated by the parade of union teachers berating the board for choosing Hill, a top administrator under former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, that Kemp abruptly resigned from his post and walked out of the meeting before the official vote took place.
“I am so ashamed of the people I always thought were such good friends and former colleagues, that mean so much to me, that at this time, I can no longer be a part of this,” Kemp said, waving a hand written letter in the air.
For weeks teachers have launched a campaign trying to block the installation of Hill, who, as the current Chief Strategy Officer at LAUSD, spearheaded the now troubled iPad and MISIS rollouts. Burbank teachers also accused the Burbank board of having been “bought off” by pro-charter organizations which they say support the LA Unified executive.
“I am tendering my resignation to Dr. Britz, as of 9:30 tonight,” Kemp said, referring to current superintendent Jan Britz and pointing toward a clock on the wall.
Kemp has served on the board since 2003 and his term was set to expire at the end of the month.
Remaining board members were left stunned.
“I was completely taken by surprise,” Larry Applebaum told LA School Report. “What happened was unfortunate but the haranguing was unbearable.”
Applebaum and other board members expressed their unwavering support of Hill despite the evening’s dramatic events.
Jill Tobin, who was voted Burbank’s Teacher of the Year, LA County Teacher of the Year and was a semi-finalist for California Teacher of the Year in 2014, was in tears when she said, “We paid…for an exhaustive nationwide search to hire a buddy and a crony down the freeway. And if he doesn’t work out, he’s going to cost us the sum of five starting teachers salaries.”
Hill’s appointment came just hours after reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission had questioned LA Unified officials about its use of bond money for purchasing iPads that were pre-loaded with software supplied by education giant, Pearson. In December, the FBI seized files related to the program bidding process as part of a grand jury investigation.
It also follows an announcement by the district earlier this week that it would seek reimbursements on thousands of devices that had been delivered with what it said was ineffective Pearson software.
Immediately after the vote, teachers in the audience cleared the board room, exiting even as Hill approached the lectern to accept the position and sign his contract.
“It hurt. Trust me it hurt to be here tonight,” Hill told the board.
“People knocked me and said I wasn’t good enough; The same arguments people have been making across the country saying teachers aren’t good enough. I, personally am sick of it,” he said.
“But I still have the conviction that here in Burbank we’re going to something things differently. We’re going to accept somebody that has a different background that can lead and work together with a team. We’re going to see somebody with a business background work with the unions and change the national narrative.”
Among the many complaints expressed by teachers last night is a fear that Hill, with his ties to the Broad Foundation and other so-called education reformers, will help usher in an era of charter school proliferation and strive to weaken the teachers union.
Those are claims Applebaum, a nine-year veteran on the board, dismisses.
“We have great, high-achieving schools in out district and charter school operators won’t be interested in coming here because they won’t get any of our students,” he said.
The Burbank Teachers Association is currently in salary negotiations with the district. BTA is seeking a 5 percent raise for the 2014-15 school year to be applied retroactively, but district officials have only offered a 3.5 percent raise.
“We’re pretty close to reaching a deal,” Lori Adams, president of BTA told LA School Report.
While the union’s three year contract is not set to expire until after the 2016-17 school year, it can re-open salary negotiations annually.
“I think we’ll have an agreement by the end of next week,” she said before adding that Hill’s appointment will have no impact on those negotiations. But, moving ahead, she said, “we’re going to have our members beware.”
Meanwhile, the teachers union has filed four Brown Act violations with the District Attorneys’ office. “That will be the last ditch effort to see if [Hill’s appointment] can be postponed until the next board is be seated,” Adams said.
By the end of his speech to the board, Hill vowed to “give every student and every adult an opportunity. And when they fail, we will pick them up together.”
He also apologized to the sitting board member for “putting you through this.”
“And I am forever sorry for what happened to Mr. Kemp tonight,” he added.
Hill did not respond to requests for comment.