Board passes budget reductions after much anticipation and a prudent process

Drake Goodman and Ryo Weng

After receiving the final budget reductions proposal from the Tamalpais Union High School District’s (TUHSD) Fiscal Advisory Committee on Feb. 12, the Board of Trustees unanimously passed the budget reductions on Tuesday, Feb. 26 that will take effect for the 2019-2020 school year. The final budget reductions were solidified after the district received months of feedback through a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) survey they sent out last September, as well as through community forums at Redwood, Drake and Tamalpais High Schools.

The budget cuts include, but are not limited to, reducing certificated librarians, eliminating community education evening classes and reducing Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) services by 22 percent.

The budget that was passed by the Board will save a projected $2.84 million. According to the budget reduction recommendation, reducing certified staffing to contractual ratios will save an estimated $823,000, making up the biggest portion of the total cuts. This was an increase from the $500,000 projection made in the previous plan. Additionally, in the new suggestion, the reduction of certificated librarians was cut by $27,000 less than the original plan proposed.

Courtesy of the Fiscal Advisory Committee
Created by the Fiscal Advisory Committee, this table shows the areas that will be affected by the reductions and how much that will save the district.

Corbett Elsen, the Chief Financial Officer for the TUHSD, believes that while the cuts are not ideal, the district and Board took the necessary measures to ensure a positive educational experience for students.

“These are the community’s schools, so the community needs to drive the process,” Elsen said. “It wasn’t easy, but I think we had a lot of positive feedback that this was a community-driven process. I feel that I can sleep at night knowing that this was the [community’s] recommendation, knowing that it’s not easy. Not everyone is going to agree with it, but the process was very thorough.”

Even after saving $1.8 million in reductions this school year and receiving funds through Measure J, which is projected to grant the district $2.9 million this year and $5.1 million annually in the next three years, the district needed to save an additional $3 million to discontinue deficit spending. If the district continued to spend below their reserves, then they would have lost the authority to control the budget in the near future.

“[The reductions are] going to place the stability to get as much course correction done this year so we don’t need to do the same thing next year and again next year and the next year. Let’s get on course this year so we get back focused on stability, teaching, learning and supporting students, because that’s why we all got into this,” Elsen said.

Ryo Weng
Passing the proposal, the TUHSD Board unanimously votes to adopt the budget reductions for next year.

The district published an initial proposal on Jan. 15, which included limiting class schedules to seven periods, cutting UCSF athletic trainers and librarians and reducing BACR services by 50 percent. While the initial proposal was not finalized, it had taken into account the data from a LCAP survey with 1,300 participants, including staff members, students and parents.

According to the survey, academic programming, or having a broad course of class options, was the top priority for the TUHSD community. Elective course offerings were the second-most important, followed by wellness programs and technology in classrooms.

Board President Leslie Harlander believes that the information received through the survey helped influence what areas the budget reduction proposal targeted.

“We wanted to make sure that any sort of budget reduction was consistent with the very things that the community valued the most,” Harlander said.

However, after the initial budget reduction proposal was announced based on the data in the LCAP survey, there was pushback from the community regarding some of the cuts. At the Redwood community forum, many students and community members spoke out against the potential cuts.

“We were able to keep all of our course offerings and all of our electives as well as not reduce as many things. Something needs to give in during a budget reduction situation, and by taking the action we did we are able to keep all these electives, all these offerings, zero periods like leadership and eighth-period drama, which we heard from the community was important to keep,” Elsen said.

Drake Goodman
Speaking to the Board, Superintendent Dr. Tara Taupier discusses what is in the final budget recommendation.

One of the groups of students that pushed for the district to not cut any BACR counselors was the Mental Health Awareness Club. The club was formed this year and advocates for awareness and destigmatization of the connotations regarding mental health. One of the co-founders, junior Collin Trauner, was at the Jan. 16 community forum to speak out against eliminating 50 percent of BACR services.

“The club members went to the community forum; we spoke and the district heard us. I was very excited that they listened to us because they were trying to make most of the people as happy as possible. They have a really hard job, but I’m just happy that they were able to find a middle ground. Cutting only 22 percent of BACR is significantly better than the previous proposal,” Trauner said.

At the Board meeting, Tam sophomore Saranyu Nel also spoke to the Board on why he believes that BACR counselors are vital to the district. Nel has experienced bullying, which resulted in isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts, but support from the BACR counselors significantly supported him through this difficult period.

Ryo Weng
Sharing his story, Tam sophomore Saranyu Nel discusses the positive impacts the BACR counselors had on him.

“I just really love talking to the [BACR counselors]. It was a safe space to talk with someone I can trust. At that time, there was nobody that I trusted fully to speak with, not even my dad or family members. I didn’t even have any friends back at the time that I could talk to. I didn’t really realize it, but over time, I started getting better,” Nel said.

While the district made changes to the budget proposal based on community feedback, such as Nel’s and Trauner’s input on the importance of BACR, many staff members and students will still be affected by the changes. The custodial staff, librarians and teachers will be reduced, and every athletic team will receive a 10 percent reduction to their budget from the district.

Although the budget recommendation will limit areas of spending, Board member Cynthia Roenisch believes that the final budget decisions are in alignment with student interests.

“The cuts are consistent with the LCAP survey, consistent with LCAP standards and consistent with the community meetings and askings,” Roenisch said. “This has really been a community-driven process, so I commend the community. We’re going in the right direction.”