Teachers raise concerns about additional proposed cuts in Greater Victoria district

Music programs aren’t the only things potentially on the chopping block as the Greater Victoria School District grapples with a $7-million deficit for its 2021-22 budget.

Carolyn Howe, vice-president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said the district could also lose a large number of educational assistants, at a time when students need more support amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Literacy support for young students could also be trimmed, Howe said, as could programs for gifted students and meal programs.

School boards must come up with a balanced budget every year.

Howe said teachers want to know “how have we ended up, all of a sudden, with this huge deficit, which is totally devastating.”

School board chair Jordan Watters said while there are a number of things on the list of possible cuts, nothing has been decided.

“We’ve got a ways to go in the process, that’s for sure, and really are just in the midst of consultation — so hearing lots of voices.”

The proposed music cuts, which attracted a student-led protest, target programs that can help students stay connected to school from the elementary to the secondary level. Cutting music doesn’t fit with the district’s strategic plan, Howe said.

“The strategic plan is all about supporting vulnerable learners, cultural inclusion,” she said. “How can you do that by cutting massive numbers of music experiences for kids?

“Thousands of kids will lose those opportunities.”

Howe said teachers are worried, and are questioning whether the district’s student-enrolment projections are too low, which would affect revenue. School districts are funded on a per-pupil basis, so more students means more provincial funding, Howe said.

The teachers are also raising questions about references in the budget to the expense of their collective agreement, more of which might be covered by the province, she said.

A Tuesday night budget presentation by the district board didn’t settle anything for the teachers’ association, said Robin Tosczak, the group’s contract chair. “This budget proposes significant cuts to our membership and supports for students,” Tosczak said in a letter to trustees. “Transparency and meaningful consultation are critical and currently woefully lacking.”

Watters said a virtual public meeting about the budget is set for April 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Information on taking part is available at sd61.bc.ca.

The plan is to have the final budget vote on May 17, which provides a buffer before the end of the month, when the document has to be given to the province, Watters said.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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