The Tam Union School District is considering cuts to the music program

Despite loud protests from parents, Tamalpais Union High School District officials have agreed to consider cuts to music programs next year due to declining enrollment.

The district board voted 4-0 Tuesday, with Trustee Karen Lobacka absent, in favor of a 60-day review of the proposal to cut the equivalent of nearly half of the full-time music teacher position. The reduction, called a 0.4 FTE reduction in teacher hours, means a reduction of about two grades, officials said.

More than two dozen parents opposed the idea and urged the district to give its music programs more time to bounce back from the pandemic.

“COVID has been difficult for all school music programs,” Tamalpais High School parent Diane Brocob said during the public comment period. “If you’ve ever had a music practice on Zoom, you know why — it’s an unfortunate situation.”

Parent Lucas Maher said the cuts would be premature and could derail any trend of returning students’ interest in music.

“Clearly, full enrollment is a problem,” Maher said. “But I fear that if we make cuts to the program now, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” We cannot react to this too quickly.”

Trustees will vote by May 15 — the last day California school districts can issue layoff notices for the next school year — whether to implement the proposal.

Three music teachers work in the district, one for each of the three general education high schools. All three are full-time, said Wes Cedros, assistant district manager.

It was not specified Tuesday where the layoffs might occur. Cedros said any decision will be based on an analysis of district-wide enrollment.

“One section (or 0.2 FTE) costs approximately $35,000, so 0.4 FTE would be approximately $70,000,” Cedros said in an email Wednesday. “The resolution on the board’s agenda allows for a maximum reduction of 0.4 FTE (2 sections) district-wide.”

A decline in music enrollment for next year is expected at Archie Williams High School in San Anselmo, according to data presented by Cedros on Tuesday. Enrollment in the school’s music program of 125 students this year is projected to drop to 78 students in 2023-24.

In the other two large high schools in the district, an increase in the enrollment of music students is expected next year.

At Redwood High School in Larkspur, the music program has 118 students this year and is expected to have 160 students next year. At Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, enrollment is expected to increase from 107 this year to 116 students in 2023-24.

“Parents, students and staff need to know that the district is committed to maintaining a strong music program,” Tara Taupier, district superintendent, said Wednesday. “We will continue to work with the administration and teachers at the school sites. However, fiscal prudence requires the district to analyze staffing ratios based on enrollment with all courses offered.”

Parents said that although the 0.4 FTE reduction seems relatively small, the impact of combining hours of different music activities would be huge and counterproductive.

“How could you knock down so many different classes?” parent Dvera Haddon said. “You can’t combine band and percussion with an orchestra.”

Parents also pointed to research showing that learning music is beneficial for improving mental health and empathy. Participating in a band or orchestra can help ease the isolation of the pandemic, said parent Sierra Robinson.

“The kids have already lost so much,” Robinson said. “Give kids back some community and a sense of belonging.”

Trustees said that while they fully support music education, it is their responsibility to make sure they keep the district fiscally stable by tying costs to enrollment.

“We have to make sure we’re doing size, but we’re not impacting the quality of the programs,” Trustee Cynthia Roenisch said.

At the same time, Roenisch, an East Bay public school teacher, said fostering empathy is important.

“I teach English, so you’ll never be out of sympathy for me,” she said.

Trustee Kevin Saavedra, a professional musician, said that while he fully supports music research, he also supports the bimonthly review.

Saavedra said he wants to spend time trying to figure out why interest in some high school music classes is waning while some Marin middle school music programs seem to be growing in popularity.

“There’s a gaping gap,” he said.

Cedros said it was not immediately clear whether the pandemic caused any enrollment declines.

“Look at the registration sheet,” he said. “The numbers at most sites appear to be very close to pre-pandemic levels.”

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