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Music programs and counsellors feeling the pinch in Greater Victoria School District budget

All of B.C.’s 60 school districts must have a balanced budget in place each year by June 30.
Aging facilities, such as the newly renovated Victoria High School, are among the heavy demands on the Greater Victoria School District’s finances. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Music programs, elementary-school counsellors and learning-support teachers are among the areas where trustees have made cuts in the Greater Victoria School District’s $318-million budget.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Ilda Turcotte said the trustees had “a difficult task” in their efforts to produce a balanced budget as required by the province, since they were facing a $6-million deficit in the 2024-25 budget.

She said funding from the provincial government isn’t enough, with the district having to balance the budget while dealing with such factors as aging infrastructure and rising utility costs.

“It’s very dire to know that the districts don’t have enough money to run their schools properly,” she said. “It’s disappointing, but the government is not funding school districts appropriately.”

Greater Victoria School Board chair Nicole Duncan said it is progressively more difficult for school districts to address “escalating inflationary cost pressures and aging infrastructure alongside the increasingly complex needs of our students without reducing essential services.”

The province said operating funds for school districts has been steadily increasing since 2017, and the average funding is now $13,000 per student — for a total of almost $8 billion, including special grants, in 2024-25, which represents a 50 per cent increase from 2016-17.

The Greater Victoria School District is receiving $80 million more from the province than it did in 2016-17, the province said.

The district’s overall 2024-25 budget serving about 20,000 students in 48 schools was balanced through a $1.9-million surplus from the current year, along with cuts and adjustments of $4.1 million.

Music-related budget measures include switching some programs to a cheaper “hub” model that saves $137,173 and sees the programs centralized at 14 schools rather than being spread around the district.

Turcotte said it means the reduction of a couple of teaching jobs “and it’s going to be challenging to see which students are going to be able to make it to those music classes.”

The need for students to travel to music class, likely before or after school, will be problematic for some families, Turcotte said.

Music programs previously weathered cuts in 2022, when budget pressures led to a 20 per cent decrease in music funding.

Some of the other cuts include one full-time counsellor position at the district level, along with a partial position at four elementary schools, and a full-time administrative position was cut.

Losing some learning-support teachers affects the amount of help for students dealing with such things as academic challenges or social-emotional issues, Turcotte said.

She said it’s “shameful” when counselling time and learning support get cut “when we know these are the supports most needed by our students.”

Also in the budget is a permanent reduction of $552,942 in the allocation of supplies to schools, a cut to the international-education supply budget for a saving of $115,184 and pausing the aviation program for a year.

Greater efficiencies in the distribution of technology to students saved $600,644.

All of B.C.’s 60 school districts must have a balanced budget in place each year by June 30.

The Sooke School District is planning to have first reading of its 2024-25 budget on April 30, with passage possible on May 28.

In the Saanich School District, a public meeting to gather input on budget priorities will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Bayside Middle School, followed by final approval of the budget on May 15.

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