Alec Palm, West Salem sophomore and Titan Spectator managing editor, urges a school district budget committee to reconsider cutting the student newspaper class. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

West Salem High School will likely lose its student newspaper class next year because of the school’s declining enrollment.

The Titan Spectator would become an after-school club, something student staff said would hurt their ability to produce a quality paper.

Students learned of the decision last week in class from their teacher and advisor, Scott Taylor.

“Half of us in the room were crying. Some of us were livid. A few of us were both,” said junior Alexandria Hardemann, the paper’s executive assistant and fun page editor.

Principal Jim Miller said he made the decision because the school is losing three and a half full-time teachers next year due to declining enrollment.

West is expected to have 1685 students next year, 36 fewer than the estimate used for staffing the school this year. Because schools are funded based on the number of students attending, that means some West teachers will move to other Salem-Keizer schools.

As a result, Miller said he needs Taylor to teach a full schedule of social studies courses next year. The school is also cutting its fire science program, a career and technical education elective with low enrollment.

“Every program we have serves a certain kid, so it’s hard to cut a program,” Miller said. But the newspaper class had only 19 students enrolled next year, down from 23 now. Miller said he’s trying to serve as many students as possible and make sure core classes don’t have 40 or more students in them.

“I have to go with what resources I have,” he said.

Staff from Titan Spectator urged district officials to reconsider in emotional testimony before the district’s budget committee on Tuesday, with many saying the class was the only thing motivating them to come to school.

West Salem junior Alexandria Hardemann, the Titan Spectator executive assistant, at a budget committee meeting. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

“How many of you can imagine your child without having a safe place in school?” Hardemann asked the committee. “This is what I wanted to do. This is how I was going to get into college,” she said.

Editor-in-chief Hailey Duggirala, a senior, said turning the paper back into a club would make it less accessible for students who work after school or don’t have parents who can pick them up after class.

It would also require students to stay after school or give up other activities like sports to participate.

“Most of us can’t do that,” she said.

Alec Palm, a sophomore and managing editor, told the committee that newspaper class has been a space where students can connect with adults and discuss difficult issues, including student suicides at the school this year.

“We are cutting elective course that help our students cope,” he said.

While other electives like band or sports require families to purchase special equipment or instruments, anyone can be in newspaper, making it more accessible to low-income students and families, Palm said.

Titan Spectator editor-in-chief Hailey Duggirala, left, and other newspaper staff listen during a school board budget committee meeting on May 7, 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The Titan Spectator is one of three high school newspapers in the district. South Salem High School publishes the Clypian, and McNary High School publishes The Piper.

West alumna Casey Chaffin re-started the Titan Spectator in 2014 during her sophomore year. The paper had previously been cut in 2011 when the district was tightening its budget due to the recession, she said. That school year, the paper was a website run by a club.

The following year, Chaffin and the paper’s staff got a class combined with the school’s yearbook and a small printing budget.

After Chaffin graduated, the Spectator got its own class.

During her time at West, Chaffin was able to write in-depth articles about refugee resettlement in Salem and a column about trauma after a classmate died from a rare genetic disorder. She sent the piece to the student’s mother.

“Having that as a tribute to her son’s life meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to me to be able to do that,” she said.

She said the paper improved significantly during her time there as students learned and got feedback, and said that process would be much more difficult for an after-school club.

Miller said he’ll look at the school’s budget again in late summer and see if there’s a way to add the class back. Higher enrollment for newspaper and higher enrollment at West would both help, he said.

He’s also budgeted the same amount for supplies and printing for a newspaper club as the class received this year so students can continue printing the paper, he said. Student staff said that amount doesn't fully cover printing costs, and they've usually raised money through outside grants to make up the difference.

Even if it’s not feasible next year, Miller said he's like to bring the class back when he’s able to.

Titan Spectator staff are seeking donations to cover operations next year.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.

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