Students waved signs and put on a roadside concert Monday morning to protest the possibility of district cuts to some music programs in the Greater Victoria School District.
Some middle school programs, elementary string music and a district ukulele program could be affected.
The Lansdowne Middle School Grade 6 strings program organized the before-class gathering, which attracted about 30 students.
“We really like music,” said Grade 6 student Grace Bateman, who plays cello in the strings program and saxophone in band. “During the day we have all sorts of projects due and it can be really stressful, but when we have a break for music, it really calms us and gets rid of all that extra stuff in our heads.”
Grade 6 student Mathilde Hammer-Coutts called music “collective learning” that is bringing students together in the time of COVID. “It’s fun for all of us.”
Grace’s mother, Jennifer, said she found out about the issue with middle-school music on Friday night, and worries that a “rash decision” will be made to deal with a budget deficit that is happening for many reasons.
“The world is not working the way it usually does every year and we’re all affected by it, but we would hate for them to make a decision that is going to last,” she said. “I don’t believe if they cut it they’ll bring it back.
“It’s too easy once something’s gone to forget about it.”
The Greater Victoria School District is facing a $7-million budget deficit. The music-related cuts would save over $1 million.
Greater Victoria School District secretary-treasurer Kim Morris stressed that nothing has been decided yet and the budget won’t be finalized until May.
She said the district is aware of people’s concerns.
“We appreciate the engagement,” she said. “We do encourage that kind of feedback, that is important for the board to gather in terms of its decision making — along with staff’s recommendations and all the other information they use.”
The board is considering cuts in several areas, not just music, she said.
“We tried to put everything we could think of on the list in terms of what was being considered,” Morris said. “It’s one amongst many.”
COVID could be a factor in some of the budget issues being faced, she said. One effect of the virus has been a drop in the revenue-generating international-student program, which is down about 25 per cent.
A virtual budget presentation is set for today at 6 p.m. and can be accessed via the district’s YouTube channel. Another meeting is in the works for April 21, the same day an online survey will start.
Another participant at the protest was Laura Walters, who was there to support her two children — Grade 8 student Armon and Grade 6 student Vanessa.
“I think that it can’t be overstated how important musical education is for them,” she said. “Music is the class they look forward to. They take strings in their own time after school because that’s so important to them.
“The teachers that they’re involved with through their music program have so much compassion and so much energy.”
News of the possible cuts came as a surprise, she said.
“It’s so shortsighted. If it’s a COVID deficit, COVID economics are going to come back around as soon as everything opens back up.”
Armon Walters, who plays cello, said it would be “terrible” to see the cuts go ahead.
“Sometimes when I’m having a terrible day I go into the music room and I just come out feeling wonderful,” he said. “These are children we’re talking about and you’re cutting their exposure to music at an early age.
“What if they stop playing music altogether because they can only do it in school?”
He said that music is “one of the biggest, coolest things” that happens at Lansdowne.