Once a school with multiple sections for beginning drama, MVHS now only offers one section for the 2020-2021 school year. A combination of annual section cuts coupled with the ordinary low student demand for certain courses has created a dramatic amount of uncertainty for various arts and humanities courses, putting the course sections at existential risk of vanishing completely the following school years. This was a major concern for MVHS English and Drama teacher Hannah Gould, who felt the stakes of losing sections for drama courses.
“I had a class that had 50 students in it at the beginning of the year and it’s since dropped down to 44, but that’s still a lot,” Gould said. “If I had only had 25-students section for beginning drama, then I wouldn’t have enough signups, and advanced drama wouldn’t exist. Next year, and then the following year, honors drama wouldn’t exist. It’s really an existential threat to the subjects that I teach.”
To tackle the issues, Gould, FHS math and engineering teacher and union representative for Fremont Education Association (FEA) Robert Capriles, FEA president Jason Heskett and other FEA members have been brainstorming possible solutions together.
Their ideas and proposals all stem from the FEA Union Representative Council.
As a union representative, Capriles and other representatives from across FUHSD frequently gather to vote on different initiatives for the district’s schools. According to him, a 50 percent majority vote either within the representative council or among the FEA members would pass a measure, with a few exceptions.
According to Capriles and Heskett, at the end of each fiscal year, FUHSD commonly allocates its budget into three different groups, where “teachers get 66% because we’re the largest group of that, revenue administrators get 15% and then the CSA, which [includes] our janitors and our secretaries and even some of our tech people on campus, get 19%.”
Rolling projections for the next few school years indicate that the district will have an extra amount of budget to spend. Historically, the remaining money is divided among the teachers, administrators and classified staff at the percentages listed above; this allocation occurs twice a year.
Using the annual fiscal year voting, Gould and her team are considering creating a measure that can be voted on district-wide, asking whether FEA members should redirect extra funds into sustaining the at-risk course sections of each school.
“Some years we get extra money, and we’re gonna get a 5% raise this year,” Gould said. “We’re asking, ‘Is it possible to have less of a percent of a raise this year?’ So maybe [teachers] will have a two percent raise or a three percent raise, and then the rest of that money could be targeted to […] these electives that suffer in terms of just students signups, but are really important to the health of the school community, to students’ well being, to supporting struggling students and [to] just having a comprehensive high school education.”
With the official arrangements still under discussion, the team hopes to direct the extra money to modifying — usually decreasing — the students per teacher ratios that lower the bar necessary to create new sections. In the past, this idea was used to preserve at-risk sections. Heskett wishes to make sure that the FEA has the “right number of elective courses offered to students” and that the teachers are “properly compensated for their health care and their salaries.”
With this strategy, however, there are a few caveats that concern Gould and Capriles as causes for opposition. Primarily, they anticipate that some FEA members may put personal interests first, as the proposal advocates for a reduction of annual raise percentage and thereby causes teachers to be hesitant to vote for it.
“People like salary increases,” Gould said. “The Bay Area is a really expensive place to live and any bit of increase in salary helps […] For teachers who are closer to retirement, their retirement [payments are] determined based on their salary in the last couple of years. So, there’s a big incentive for teachers to get that number as high as possible.”
While Gould understands the complex positions that these teachers face, she hopes “people see the value in the arts,” and the “benefit in AVID and other support classes.” Foreseeing the long-run impacts of protecting at-risk electives, she believes that they will also improve students’ mental health and stress levels.
Gould, Capriles, Heskett and the rest of the team also formulated alternative ideas to address the issue. One of those was changing school schedules to allow more students the opportunity to take courses across schools in the district. Capriles noticed that different schools have different trends in course selection, comparing the high-demand of AVID programs at FHS to the low-demand for them at MVHS.
“Right now in my engineering classes, I have two Lynbrook students because they can just Zoom in [to class …] they don’t have to physically leave the campus,” Capriles said. “But if we were to go back to in-class learning, they would need to come to Fremont […] We need to give the students some time to get between schools and maybe one of the solutions we might have is [that] maybe we can’t offer every elective at every school, but maybe we offer it somewhere in the district.”
With various ideas pouring into the campaign, the march to save at-risk course sections remains a work in progress. Though it is hard to guarantee permanent action, Heskett ensures temporary flexibilities will be implemented until enrollment trends change in the future. For permanent action, however, Capriles believes that the issue and campaign needs more awareness.
“Right now, because of Ms. Gould’s work at MVHS, [the campaign has] really been focused at MVHS, but I believe this work really needs to spread to all the schools in the district,” Capriles said. “No matter which school you’re going to, you need to have support programs like [AVID] in addition to arts and humanities […] But the first discussion [we had with the Union] was to see if there was a way that we could actually solve the problem we have of declining student population.”