A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Music classes, inclusion services, reading programs on the line

Parents, teachers and students were horrified to learn last week of a proposed $7 million cut to the Greater Victoria School District that would eliminate music programs and cut supports for elementary and middle school students requiring alternative education plans.

On the line, critics say, are equity and inclusion.

Speaking during a special board meeting Tuesday night, music teacher Cindy Romphf said the elimination of music programs – currently marked as a $1,566,360 cut – would affect over 2,500 middle and 600 elementary school students from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

“Music classes give them the safety to be vulnerable, to take risks and to explore personal expression,” she said.

It’s something parent Cheryl McKinnon can attest to. Also presenting at the meeting, McKinnon shared how her child has struggled with anxiety and depression from years of bullying. Music classes were the only place they felt safe, she said.

“When they walked into a music room, a switch turned on. Their worries were left at the door,” McKinnon said. “There’s no room for anything else when music fills your soul this way.”

READ ALSO: Students protest proposed cuts to SD61 music programs

Musical training is also something many families can’t afford outside of school, parent Nevin Thompson pointed out speaking with Black Press Media.

“By taking it away you’re making it ‘pay to play’,” he said. “Only affluent families will have the opportunity.”

One of his sons attends the University of Victoria’s School of Music, having gotten his start at the middle school music program.

Thompson also added that he and many other parents have volunteered hundreds of hours over the years to fundraise for the music programs and provide kids in need with instruments.

“If you close the program, what happens to all the hard work our community has done?” he asked. A Change.org petition against the music program cuts had over 12,000 signatures as of midday Wednesday.

The cuts stretch far further though. Another area of public worry has been $1,078,492 in proposed cuts to education assistants and gifted teacher supports.

Tracy Humphreys, chair and executive director at the BCEdAccess Society, said when there aren’t enough supports, kids who require them will be told they can’t attend school full time.

READ ALSO: ‘Neither rare nor unusual’: 3,600 cases of students with disabilities excluded in B.C.

They have the right to attend full time, but Humphreys said parents don’t always know this and there is a complaint process they must go through to rectify the issue.

Speaking Tuesday, SD61 secretary-treasurer Kim Morris said education assistants will be adjusted according to student needs.

Cuts to Community LINK – which provides food programs, counselling and supports – and the Reading Recovery program coordinator also threaten more vulnerable students.

But, as Morris and superintendant Shelley Green told the board of trustees, regardless of where the cuts come from they have to happen.

Morris said the $7,143,813 deficit comes from a combination of increased expenses – collective agreement, wages, benefits and utilities – and decreased revenue – lower enrolment and third party rentals. In 2021, Morris said, the district lost 50 per cent of its international enrolment. It hopes to have 75 per cent by 2022.

Why though, is it necessary to balance the budget this year, Braefoot Elementary Parents Advisory Committee member Noelle Davis asked in the meeting. If, she said, the losses in revenue are a result of the pandemic, they should be recovered in years to come.

“We should not be removing long-term programs to solve short-term problems,” Davis said.

People interested in weighing in can send written or emailed submissions to the board and attend the public information session on April 21. A survey will also be made available following the information session.

The full draft budget can be read at sd61.bc.ca.

READ ALSO: Privacy concerns keep COVID-19 cases at University of Victoria off the record

Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

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