SD61 approves budget for 2021-22, music programs appear to be saved

SD61 approves budget for 2021-22, music programs appear to be saved
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With a far lower budget cut than originally estimated, music programs appear to have been saved in the Greater Victoria School District — at least for now.

The Greater Victoria Board of Education passed its preliminary 2021-22 budget Thursday night, opting to spread out cuts so that many music programs including choir, band and strings would maintain 95 per cent of their funding instead of an initial plan to cut more than $1-million.

Funding to educational assistants, which was also cut in previous budget drafts, will be now be upheld for the upcoming school year.

More than 1,000 people protested the proposed cuts in May, spreading from the school board office in Saanich to downtown Victoria over five kilometres while holding signs, playing music and calling on the district to listen to their concerns.

After multiple protests, letters, calls, and support from high-profile figures like David Foster, trustees took another look at available funds and found $1.1-million in surplus to invest back into the music programs and educational assistants.

“The District would like to express our appreciation to Rightsholders, students, stakeholders, staff and families for their overwhelming engagement in numerous meetings, impact statements, written submissions, presentations and debate,” said Supt. Shelley Green in a statement.

“Engagement in the budget process assisted the Board in balancing its budget and in addressing an $8.7-million shortfall, a difficult task amidst a pandemic when we know so many of our students and staff are experiencing challenges.”

Areas seeing cuts include:

  • Board Office Administration $484,227
  • Benefits Premium Holiday $297,600
  • Equity of Opportunity $718,268
  • Student Device Technology Refresh $329,279
  • International Student Program $611,419
  • Vice-Principal Administration $496,364
  • School and Board Office Clerical $439,843
  • Teachers – Gifted $350,501
  • Music $80,230
  • Community LINK Food $300,000

In addition to music programs educational assistants being upheld, counsellors, clerical staff in Indigenous education and reading recovery staff will also be maintained.

Only five areas will receive a budget increase in 2021-22, including

  • Continuation of Early Learning Framework Pilot Project ($240,000)
  • Strong Start Learning Centre Supplement ($32,000)
  • Enhanced Wrap Around Supports (COMPASS) ($86,000)
  • Balanced K-5 Literacy ($427,000)
  • Reconciliation & Anti-Racism Initiative ($50,000)

Watters said the decisions for this upcoming budget were “agonizing” for board members.

“We are all learning and improving as we better understand the budget and how to improve our process. We have a lot of work to do going forward as we continue budget discussions this fall,” she said.

“Prioritizing direct services for students comes at a cost. This conversation would be different if the government put a higher priority on education. The Board’s advocacy for increases to public education funding is a top priority.”

Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, echoed calls for increased funding during a pandemic that has hurt enrollment, particularly from international students.

“It looks to me that the government has been helping a lot of sectors recover from the pandemic, why not education?” she said

Waldron said the government is well aware of the challenges that districts that rely on international students face.

“The way school districts are funded, by dollar amount per enrollment, means that every year is a gamble,” she said.

Waldron said while she’s disappointed to see any cuts,  she was also disappointed that school board trustees in Greater Victoria didn’t take a previous invitation from the association and from local First Nations to approach the provincial government and ask for a deficit budget. B.C. school districts are required by law to present balanced budgets to the Ministry of Education.

She also criticized how late the final approval of the preliminary budget came in 2021.

“They need to start that process much earlier,” she said, adding some teachers didn’t know whether or not they would still have a job by September. “It was wildly stressful for people in an already untenable year.”

The Greater Victoria School Board said it used a $4.8-million projected surplus to balance the budget and also established a reserve of $821,000.

Jeff LawrenceJeff Lawrence

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