What would Redwood be without art, music and the library? The varsity sports programs, leadership and the wellness center? This year, departments are already facing severe cuts, but completely eliminating these programs could be a reality within three years. Over the last 10 years in the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD), there has been a 32 percent increase in student population, according to a report by the TUHSD. Despite this increase, the district does not receive additional revenue, as the majority of the district’s budget comes from local property taxes rather than government funding. The influx of students has required substantial additions in resources over the past decade, yet because the budget has not grown to accomodate for the rising number of student population among other factors, the TUHSD faces an eight-million-dollar deficit for the 2018-2019 school year.
A supplemental parcel tax, the Measure J Parcel Tax, is going up for a vote soon. It will cost each household an additional $149 per year, lasting four years, with the money going directly to the district. If this passes, the TUHSD will receive an additional $5.1 million for the 2018-2019 school year, and the amount will increase by three percent every year. Karen Loebbaka, President of the Redwood High School Foundation and Co-Chair of the Measure J Parcel Tax Campaign, is trying to spread the word.
“We have added 1,200 students over the last 10 years, which is the equivalent of Drake’s student population,” Loebbaka said. “It’s a whole new high school.”
TUHSD is a basic aid school district, meaning the majority of its money comes from property taxes instead of the government. The taxes have only increased five percent in the last 10 years, a significant difference compared to the increase in student population, meaning the district needs the extra money the parcel tax would provide.
“The important thing to remember is that we are going out and asking for $5.1 million, but the district is also taking means to reduce some of their expenses to the tune of about three million dollars,” Loebbaka said.
The three million dollar reductions are just for the 2018-19 school year, but TUHSD will continue to make budget cuts next year, even if the parcel tax passes. If the parcel tax does not pass, the district will run out of money in two years, and have to make even more severe cuts according to a TUHSD report.
The Redwood portables would most likely be affected first. Constructed to address the issue of student population overflow, they would have to be removed if the parcel tax does not pass. According to Loebbaka, this would lead to larger class sizes and less classes being offered.
“If we don’t have the money to maintain these facilities the class sizes will get a lot bigger, causing the quality of the experience of the student to significantly decrease,” Loebbaka said.
However, TUHSD is taking action to prevent the need for these dramatic changes. As of June 2018, each department in the district has been directed to reduce their spending by 25 percent.
Although every department is facing the burden of the budget deficit, the library has been affected more than others; their funds have been cut 50 percent for the 18-19 year, according to Redwood librarian Adriana Perez. Perez was worried starting this school year off knowing that some of her resources were going to be cut. In the past, the library has been able to buy books for students studying a specific topics when they don’t have other resources, as well as provide a quiet space to learn and research. With the library being hit harder on budget cuts compared to other programs such as art and music, Perez says there will definitely be some changes in the amount of books, computers and other supplies the library will have available in the upcoming years.
“Right now I’m thinking this is maybe a one-year problem, so I’m holding my breath on if the [parcel] tax passes and taking this one year at a time,” Perez said.
Richard Esteb, an engineering teacher at Redwood, is also facing similar challenges.
“We’re making projects that require less money, like less 3D printing, even though the new curriculum requires new purchases,” Esteb said.
While Esteb is aiming to improve the student experience and provide as much as possible for his classes, materials and supplies cost more than what his budget will support. The wide-format paper that is needed in the class is expensive and hard to get, which causes problems when the budget is tight according to Esteb. With a new curriculum requiring new equipment, but less money to go around, Esteb must find creative ways to teach and restrict usage of materials in his class. Esteb might have to regulate who can use the 3D printer, or fully restrict it some days.
“If we don’t pass this parcel tax, we will have to make severe cuts to the tune of possibly 40 teachers across the district,” Loebbaka said. “We will have to eliminate or severely reduce the programs offered and we would not be able to maintain let alone improve facilities.”
According to Loebbaka, if the Parcel Tax doesn’t pass, it will also affect all TUHSD residents living in the district, even if they do not have children attending one of the district’s high schools.
“Public schools drive the value of a community and education is the foundation for why people live in a certain area,” Loebbaka said. “People seek out Marin because of the great public schools located here.”
According to Loebbaka, if the quality of schools start to struggle, property values will diminish because there will be less of a demand to live in Marin County. Tam, Drake and Redwood are the top-rated public schools in the area, resulting in the highest property values. According to US News, Redwood is ranked 30th in California for 2018 and Drake is rated 67th, compared to Novato High School which is 201st in California for 2018 and San Rafael High School which is unranked. Because of this, San Rafael and Novato have lower property values than residential areas like Larkspur, Mill Valley and Tiburon. The TUHSD is very spread out, spanning the distance from the Golden Gate Bridge to Stinson Beach, which makes it harder to get votes on Measure J.
“It’s a far-reaching district, and while our community around Redwood is most likely all on board there are a whole bunch of people that we still need to educate, inform and hopefully get them to vote,” Loebbaka said.
Trying to pass the parcel is proving to be extremely difficult.
“It’s going to be hard; it’s going to be important for us to explain to people what it is that we are trying to accomplish, especially to those people that aren’t in the parent community … as well as people who have young families. They think that it [the budget situation] will be fixed by the time they get there. It won’t be if people don’t take action now,” Loebbaka said.
However, Loebbaka believes if enough people spread the word to the community, there is a real chance at making positive and necessary change for our high schools.