Greater Victoria School District pauses budget vote following protests over proposed cuts

Greater Victoria School District pauses budget vote following protests over proposed cuts
The Greater Victoria School District announced Monday that it will postpone voting on its 2021/22 until further notice. It comes following protests against proposed music cuts within the budget.

The beat will go on for elementary and middle school music students in the Victoria region — at least for now.

The Greater Victoria School District announced Monday that they have postponed voting on their 2021/22 budget until further notice. Trustees were slated to vote on the proposed budget on Monday night.

The move comes after more than a thousand people gathered throughout Greater Victoria on Saturday to protest proposed cuts for the upcoming school year.

“We heard the feedback from our learning community loud and clear, so we’re requesting outside support to help the board balance and approve its budget,” Jordan Watters, school district board chair, said in a statement.

School District 61 said they have asked the Ministry of Education to help them identify an independent advisor, who would assist in reviewing the budget process, options and make recommendations to the board.

RELATED: Hundreds protest cuts to Greater Victoria School District’s 2021-22 budget ahead of trustee vote

Facing a $7-million deficit, the Greater Victoria School District put forward a third draft budget that proposes cutting more than $1 million from elementary and middle school music programs.

The cuts would have resulted in the elimination of middle school band, strings and choir, elementary strings, ukulele and fine arts from all schools across the district. The third draft also saw cuts in reading recovery programs and educational assistants among others.

READ MORE: Greater Victoria School District says proposed budget cuts the result of pandemic, increased expenses

But after multiple protests, letters and calls from community members, the trustees asked staff to take one more look at available funds. They were able to identify about $1.1 million in surplus from department underspends. The draft budget was updated and the extra funds were invested back into the programs: $481,426 into middle school band — grades 6, 7 and 8 — ukulele, and Indigenous drumming and $400,000 towards educational assistant staffing.

However, the additional funds don’t cover all of the cutbacks and the community is still frustrated.

“It’s really frustrating to know the science behind why music matters on brain development and mental health and for them to still cut an essential vital program such as this is really frustrating,” Cindy Romphf of the Greater Victoria Music Educators Association told CHEK News on Saturday.

READ MORE: Some music programs in Greater Victoria schools could be saved as School District 61 finds $1M in surplus

“All the cuts to our members directly affect the learning community of our schools,” said Jane Massy, president of CUPE 947, whose members are educational assistants and clerical staff.

Students, parents and teachers have been rallying since the proposed cuts were first revealed back in April. Their battle has received open support from Grammy-winning musician and composer David Foster, who attended Lansdowne Junior High and Mount Doug High School.

“Music and band in school were the one bright light for me. I would not be the musician I am today if it were not for this school program,” said Foster in a video posted on a YouTube channel called Advocacy for Music in Schools.

With files from Jasmine Bala


Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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