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

WatchMusic programs, early literacy and educational assistants are among those at risk, as the Greater Victoria School District looks at cuts for next year's budget. But, as Jasmine Bala reports, nothing is set in stone yet.

The Greater Victoria School District is proposing millions of dollars in cuts for its 2021-2022 school year to balance its budget.

The district identified a $7 million deficit in its proposal, citing a decrease in revenue, increase in expenses and a lack of surplus during the current school year.

Proposed cuts would impact music programs in elementary and middle schools, early literacy and educational assistants among other things.

“We tried to take a look at every facet,” said Kim Morris, the district’s secretary-treasurer. “We took a look at some of our literacy programs, some of our staffing levels in terms of teaching and education assistants, as well as music programs and any other facet of the organization that we needed to review in order to find out where we could find efficiencies or to figure out where our spending was.”

The end result was a draft budget with cuts of $1.5 million in middle school band, strings and choir, and elementary strings. About $273,350 in savings would be reinvested into Grade 8 band. $73,903 was cut in the reading recovery coordinator contract and an adjustment on education assistant staffing of $685,907 was proposed.

READ MORE: Greater Victoria School District proposes $1.5M in budget cuts to music programs

“Anything that we’re looking at reducing is going to impact students,” Morris noted. “It’s a matter of prioritizing where the greatest need is and how we can make the biggest impact on our students in terms of their success.”

Typically, the surplus from the current school year covers the deficit of the next, Morris explained, but with the pandemic, that didn’t happen.

Morris said that’s because of a lack of enrollment during the school year.

“It’s definitely COVID-related in terms of people’s anxiety or comfort level with having their students in our schools and sort of easing ourselves out of that hybrid program,” she said. “It has a lot to do with international [enrollment too].”

That, combined with higher expenses, ended with a $10.7 million deficit in the books for next year. The surplus from this year comes out to $3.7 million, bringing the total deficit they needed to make up for — or balance — in the 2021-2022 budget to $7 million.

The proposed cuts have left teachers feeling the impact and the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) says the cuts would be devastating.

“They feel like they’ve been kicked in the gut,” said Carolyn Howe, first vice-president of the GVTA. “I had another email from a teacher whose job is being slashed from almost full-time to .124 next year and she said she just can’t keep going with this kind of fight.”

Instead of teaching for 4 and a half days a week, Howe explained, the teacher would only be in class for one afternoon a week.

“She said what that means for her is she’s just so tired of fighting and she’s thinking about a career change,” Howe said.

READ MORE: More parents pull kids from schools due to COVID, Victoria facing teacher shortage says GVTA

Howe added she doesn’t understand why the cuts are coming during a pandemic.

“Everything we’ve been hearing all along is how important it is to support our kids’ social, emotional wellbeing,” she said. “So taking away services that directly support that? It’s really surprising.”

The budget is not yet set in stone, Morris noted, and any feedback is welcome. There are still four more opportunities for the public to offer feedback and present before the board.

“Now, it’s really about: Did we prioritize correctly? What will the board consider?” she said. “And if it is to re-prioritize based on consultation and feedback from the public as well as staff recommendation, where will the tradeoffs be? There’s no pot of money, so if not this, then what?

The district’s 2021-2022 budget is expected to be finalized by the end of May.

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Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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