Board approves $1.4 million in programming cuts


District board members Dan Oppenheim, Cynthia Roenisch, and Kevin Saavedra. (Ethan Swope)

By Samantha Nichols

This news article is objective, and it underwent several rounds of scrutiny before publishing to ensure that it met our editorial standards. However, The Tam News was directly impacted by the cuts in question, and many staff members advocated against them before they passed. Read our editorial: Save The Tam News.

Updated May 25, 2020.

The Tamalpais Union High School District board of trustees voted four to one on April 28 in favor of adopting budget cuts outlined by a fiscal advisory committee in March. The cuts include a one-year suspension of the Team program, a continuation of the indefinite suspension of the teacher leader program, and removal of district-wide release periods, including those for leadership, global studies, and journalism.

The approved budget reductions, introduced after the failure of parcel tax Measure B in March, are part of an effort to maintain fiscal solvency in the district and sustain a reserve of at least 17 percent of the budget. Without the budget cuts the district estimated that it would face a $1.3 million deficit in the 2020-21 fiscal year, not including increases in staff compensation and assuming the renewal of current parcel tax measures.

“I’m not supportive of continuing a spending trajectory with the anticipation of a hope that we will be able to provide the revenue to continue to support [release periods, teacher leader program, and Team program],” board member Kevin Saavedra said at the April 28 meeting.

The combined cuts are estimated to save the district about $1.16 million in the 2020-21 school year and $1.4 million each year after that. Of that, suspension of the teacher leader program will save $724,000 each year of suspension, according to district data.

The Team program is a one-year alternative learning opportunity at Tamiscal for juniors in the district. In addition to core academics, it includes several backpacking trips, wilderness medicine classes, leadership training, volunteering opportunities, and internships for 24 students in the district. Team costs the district an estimated $230,000 per year.

“[Team] changes lives because it gives students the opportunities to recognize their own resilience in their lives and their communities,” Team teacher Diana Goldberg wrote in an email. “They recognize the power of a community to change the world for the better and to take ownership of their own lives and education.”

During the meeting, many current and former Team students spoke of the importance and value of the program.
“I was very unhappy and felt like I had no community. Team allowed me to have that community and helped me grow as a person,” Tamiscal student Dylan Wiley, who was in Team last year, said. “The teachers are so invested in the lives of their students. It’s the most special community ever.”

“We’re talking about small numbers here. We’re talking about tolerating a slight deficit during a pandemic, which is why you have a reserve,” board member Dan Oppenheim said at the meeting, noting that Team accounts for 0.2 percent of the district’s budget. Oppenheim was the only board member to vote against adopting the proposed budget reductions.
Release periods are an extended class period outside normal school hours during which teachers are paid to facilitate additional learning. They are utilized by several classes and programs in the district, including leadership, global studies, and journalism. According to district calculations, eliminating all release periods will save $210,000 in the 2020-21 school year and up to $450,000 per year after that.

Over the last several months, members of the journalism programs at Drake, Redwood, and Tam have advocated for keeping the release periods, arguing that it would be extremely difficult to produce a print publication and maintain the same quality of reporting without the time provided by release periods.

“The Jolly Roger does not see print as a possibility for next year,” Drake junior Emily Cartwell, a reporter for the Jolly Roger, said. “Our advisor is not able to see over paste-up day without the release period and our principal made it clear she would not approve of parent volunteers overseeing paste-ups.”

The Redwood Bark plans to continue producing a print newspaper, although Bark adviser Erin Schneider said the frequency of issues will likely decrease.

“We might have to cut a few issues because of the lack of time allotted to us,” Schneider said, adding that the planning and layout of the newspaper will have to be conducted during class time and at home instead of during release periods.

During the meeting, Oppenheim made a motion to continue with reductions to release periods and the teacher leader program, but not the Team program. However, the motion was not seconded and the board voted four to one to follow through with all of the proposed cuts.

“This is the least enjoyable part of this responsibility but it’s a responsibility I take seriously. I am supportive of Team as an idea and the impact that it’s having but there are painful decisions we have to make,” Saavedra said.