The Greater Victoria School District approved its much-anticipated budget Thursday night, with many cuts, but also several saves.
The biggest change by far, was a reversal on the district’s original proposal to eliminate nearly all elementary and middle school music programs. Instead of the initial $1.5 million, only $80,000 (five per cent) of the programs’ budget will be cut. So, board chair Jordan Watters said, all the key programs – band, strings, choir, ukelele, drumming – will remain, but there may be slightly fewer options – say, show choir, for example.
Other items of community concern that were saved are the reading recovery program, education assistants and youth and family counsellors. In addition, the board followed through on its decision to inject a further $427,000 into K-5 literacy.
In total, the district reduced cuts from the original $7 million to $4.7 million, using projected surplus dollars.
“The trade off is we’ve depleted our reserve to under a million dollars,” Watters said.
This is the opposite of what the district set out to do this year when it was hoping to change its accounting practices to rely less on unknown surplus amounts and work more within its means. But, Watters said, they heard the community loud and clear and the board decided a pandemic year was not the time for big decisions.
“We have in some ways kicked the can down the road,” she said, noting that next year the board will be dealing with the same problems. The board plans to make some changes to its next budget process though, including involving the community more.
At the end of September, Watters said they will launch a series of advisory tables.
And, the board set aside a small fund to address reconciliation and anti-racism. Watters said they haven’t determined exactly how the $50,000 will be used, but it will likely go to professional development and training. The district received considerable criticism during its budget process for its approach to Indigenous learners, prompting the resignation of an Indigenous committee member and a letter from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association calling out a pattern of colonial thinking.
With the lingering, two-decade-long issue of public education being critically underfunded, the board chair said, it’ll be imperative for the province to step up as schools take on more responsibilities – such as ensuring access to youth mental health programs.
“There has been a growing gap between the needs of our students and the funding coming in,” Watters said. “If we want all our students to achieve their full potential, we need to provide the conditions for success.”
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