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Music programs threatened again as Victoria school district faces $7M deficit

Prospect of cuts last year to school music programs sparked protests from students, parents and teachers
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Cedar Hill Middle School music students protest proposed cuts to school band programs in Greater Victoria School District in April 2021. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Music programs could once again be on the cutting block as the Greater Victoria School District faces another tough budget year, with a $7-million deficit.

School board chairman Ryan Painter said the board will have some “hard decisions” as it works to recover from the pandemic and growing pressures of inflation.

The prospect of cuts to school music programs to balance last year’s budget sparked public protests from students, parents and teachers.

In the end, the board pared down an $8.7-million deficit to come up with a balanced $254-million budget, and music cuts were reduced to five per cent. But key to balancing that budget — a requirement for all school boards — was adding $4.8 million in accumulated surplus funds, similar to a contingency fund. That left just $800,000 in the fund for this year.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said cuts to elementary strings, middle school band and strings and the district’s ukulele program are all possibilities.

While the list of possible cuts is “extensive,” the one Waldron is most troubled by is cuts to counselling for students. Now is not the time to cut the number of counsellors, she said. “As we come out of COVID, we know how important mental health has been and now much we need those supports right now.”

Other possibilities are cuts to the number of French immersion teachers and daytime custodians, Waldron said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of upset parents and a lot less services for students.”

An in-person public budget meeting is being held Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the district’s Uplands Campus, 3461 Henderson Rd.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, participants must register in advance by email at vhanley@sd61.bc.ca. The registration deadline is Wednesday at 4 p.m.

After the meeting, feedback will be invited at community@sd61.bc.ca until April 1.

The board intends to have the required three readings to pass the budget in place by April 7.

Neither Waldron nor Carmichael plan to attend, because their groups voted to boycott district meetings due to concern over the process followed when trustees Diane McNally and Rob Paynter were suspended last month over allegations of inappropriate comments on Twitter.

jbell@timescolonist.com