Elementary strings, administrative positions and some counsellors were among the areas where the final Greater Victoria School District (SD61) budget cut axe fell.
Protests leading up to the board of education’s approval of the 2022-23 financial plan on April 7 took issue with proposals to cut music programs, janitor services and more. The finalized budget follows through with many of the controversial proposals. Removal of the elementary strings music program in the district is projected to save $209,000 while chopping 20 per cent of the funding for middle school band and strings lopped $190,000 from the budget deficit, which began at $7 million.
The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association was concerned about a number of potential counsellor positions being slashed, especially with the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. The approved budget ended up reducing two contracted community LINK outreach workers, a measure that will save $180,000.
“The board is taking a calculated risk to maintain and invest in as many programs and services while addressing a $7 million deficit,” board chair Ryan Painter stated in a release. “These are very difficult decisions that we do not take lightly. We have had many discussions and debates on ways to save and recover from the global pandemic, inflationary pressures and static enrolment.”
The board also followed through with halving the number of daytime custodians in elementary and middle schools, saving $655,000. Local teacher and parent groups expressed unease around the move, saying increased cleaning was still important at this stage of the pandemic, while students plainly noted that schools are already messy. Other sizable reductions aimed at putting a dent in the deficit included not replacing educational assistants ($620,000) and slashing several administration positions from the board office ($427,000). The district is putting $275,000 into bringing all existing educational assistants in the district up to 30 hours/week.
The budget puts additional funds toward the Indigenous Nation Education Department to support local education agreements and more staffing. Other spending saw a $500,000 investment into Information Technology Learning (ITL) network Infrastructure, including a security analyst position, about $170,000 for two carpenters to address aging infrastructure and a communications assistant position.