Dear TUHSD Board of Trustees;
It is a shame that Measure B didn’t pass; it should have. The hope is that when the parcel tax measure is put up for another vote, that 63% will turn into 67%. I believe it will.
But since it didn’t pass, the district has to shore up finances, with an eye toward considerable cuts in the future. On March 10, 2020, you held a board meeting in which these budget shortfalls were discussed and cuts were proposed for approval. The preliminary proposal for budget cuts was passed, 4-1, with Dan Oppenheim as the only vote in opposition. The cuts target student programs and little else.
At this point in time, it is clear that these cuts are trade-offs for other programs. Past superintendents mismanaged the district’s finances and that is now impacting the excellent programs we all enjoy. So, what do we give up? How do we decide what to cut to fix this problem?
It comes down to philosophy and practicality. What philosophy or belief should be employed in this scenario? Here are the questions that must be considered:
What does the district value?
What are the district goals?
How can we prioritize certain programs over others?
How can we prioritize improving student growth (intellectually, physically, and emotionally) while making cuts?
How can we minimize the impact on students while maximizing the savings?
So, what does the district value? From what I can tell, the district values a rich learning environment that supports student growth and offers a wide variety of ways to participate in authentic learning. The goals of the district are to improve programs and ensure that every student has access to an education that supports their inborn ability to achieve. I know that Superintendent Tara Taupier and the board value excellence in education. I know that the leadership of the district values students over adult interests. I know that she understands the impact that journalism makes on student lives.
The proposed cuts include eliminating a release period for the Journalism programs at Drake, Redwood and Tam. So, how does losing a release period impact students? If the Journalism teachers lose the release period, it is an increased expectation of time. Here’s how it works. 1 additional English class means 30 papers or more to grade every week. Each paper takes 10 minutes. That is, at minimum, 300 minutes of grading added onto the 900 minutes of grading for current classes. This totals to 1200 minutes of grading or 20 hours outside of instructional time. Most teachers are given 9.25 hours for prep time for all of their classes. That prep time has to also be used for meetings, copying, planning, curriculum development, and communicating with parents and students.
Now, add in Journalism, which alone takes an additional 10-15 hours a week. When do Journalism teachers grade papers and prep for other classes? The release period makes it possible to trade time during the day to grade and prepare for teaching. That way Journalism teachers have the time to spend evenings and weekends supporting the journalists as they put together the print publication.
It is important that you know that I love teaching journalism, and I would teach a full load of Journalism classes if I could. It is project-based learning at its best. Students learn soft-skills, collaboration, communication, project management, civic engagement, and humility. I would bend over backwards to keep teaching this program, if I had the time.
So, don’t minimize what the release period does. Don’t assume that students can bear the burden of our cuts. Cut where it counts, where it doesn’t directly impact kids. Instead of a maximum impact on kids with minimal savings, shoot for a minimum impact with maximum savings.
I don’t know the answer to this dilemma, but I hope no one has to pay for the district’s past mistakes.
AP English teacher
Drake High School