District music program faces budget cuts

Michael Seton

On March 15, the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) board discussed reducing the district’s music program by cutting two year-long classes. Subsequently, on May 9, the board unanimously agreed to move forward with these cuts by eliminating 40 percent of a full-time music teaching role at Archie Williams High School. 

At the initial meeting, TUHSD Assistant Superintendent Wes Cedros discussed the impact of the cuts on the music program.

“No programming would be cut,” Cedros said. “We’re adjusting staffing levels to enrollment.” 

A full-time music program requires a minimum enrollment of 130 students and ideally 140 to 160 students. Cedros explained the program cuts are being made to reflect the lower number of students who chose the music elective for next year.

Advanced Performance Workshop sings and plays their hearts out during the Fall Semester Performance. (Photo courtesy of Aanika Sawhney)

Projections based on current student course requests at each high school show music enrollment increasing next year at Redwood and Tamalpais High School. However, music enrollment at Archie Williams will drop precipitously from 125 to 78 students, which does not meet the threshold for a full-time program.

Over 20 parents attended the March TUHSD board meeting to express their displeasure with this decision. There were differing viewpoints on what has caused the decline in music enrollment within the district. Many argued that music programs were more severely impacted by pandemic-related distance learning requirements than other classes.

“We need to give music programs more time to bounce back,” said Tamalpais High School (Tam) parent Diane Brockob. “They need more leeway to bring back their enrollments after the extreme challenges of distance learning.”

However, local professional musician and educator, Eric Allen, did not believe that COVID-19 was the cause of decreasing enrollment.

“If [COVID-19] was the issue, our middle school programs would also be in shambles, but they aren’t. They all have very strong numbers and are growing. White Hill Middle School has 92 students in band and orchestra, but Archie Williams has a small fraction of this number,” Allen said. “When there is a strong middle school program and a weak high school program, it means there are problems at the high school. It’s not just bad luck or coincidence. Students are not being engaged, they’re not having fun and they’re not sticking with music. Middle school families hear about this and choose to do other electives instead.”

(Infographic by Sarah Goody)

Other parents expressed confusion about how the proposed cuts would not impact programming as the board members had indicated.

“Guitar and percussion are already combined in one class, so I don’t know how you could not impact the programming by cutting a class,” said Tam parent Trish Keane.

Ross Valley School District music teacher Peter Santucci had similar doubts.

“Cutting a music class is not the same as cutting one section of ninth grade math. If you combine a band class with a guitar class or a computer music class, none of those kids are served well,” Santucci said.

Freshman music student Charles Later expressed concerns about the proposed changes for students.

Showing his love of music, junior Viggo Jensen plays the saxophone during the Fall Semester Performance. (Photo courtesy of Aanika Sawhney)

“Music is a big part of people’s lives, and it impacts their performance in other activities and helps them perform better [overall],” Later said. “[Reducing the program] would cut off a lot of student’s interest in music, so they would quit, and it would reduce the amount of musicians at Redwood.”

Cutting 40 percent of a full-time music teaching role will generate approximately $68,000 in savings, according to district Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Corbett Elsen.

“Getting smaller is often harder than getting bigger,” said board member Cynthia Roenisch. “We need to make sure we’re being fiscally prudent and aligning our staffing with our enrollment moving forward.”