The Greater Victoria School District’s largest parents’ group wants the province to help offset a budget deficit that could mean cuts to music education and other student programs.
In a letter to the school board, Tracy Humphreys, president of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, offers the group’s support in advocating “strongly to the provincial government for coverage of inflationary costs, general increases to district funding and specific requirements for which no additional funds have been provided.”
The district is facing a $4-million budget deficit on the heels of a $7-million deficit last year. All school districts must submit balanced budgets each year by June 30.
The parents’ group says music programs at the elementary and middle school levels have been “severely cut” for the past two years, and will dwindle to nothing “if we continue whittling away at it.”
“Music teachers and families are feeling untold stress at having to advocate for this program year after year.”
The group said music classes provide “a sense of belonging, a place to feel comfortable and the same teacher over several years,” and suggested any reduction to middle-school music be kept to a five to 10 per cent program-wide cut.
The group’s members were among the 65 people who attended a recent meeting held to gauge the community’s budget priorities. Public feedback is being gathered until March 17 via submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
School board chair Nicole Duncan said the budget process is still in its “public-feedback portion,” with a special online board meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to look at recommendations from the budget advisory committee that has been in place since October.
The meeting can be watched through the district website at sd61.bc.ca.
Duncan said there will be an opportunity to bring in budget amendments when more is known about enrolment numbers in September.
The first reading of the budget bylaw will be on April 4, with passage scheduled for April 6.
Options put forward by the district for music funding in 2023-24 include grouping elementary-string programs into “hubs” at middle schools, and basing music-teacher availability in middle schools on school population.
The parents’ group said basing a music teacher’s hours on an entire school population when only one subject is involved is not an equitable use of resources.
The group called for the preservation of all student programs.
“We firmly insist that any required cuts should be as far from student programs and supports as possible.”
The parents’ group also requested that the district provide a rationale for cuts to programs that provide benefits to students socially and in other ways.
Those include educational assistants, who work with students with special needs or learning challenges, mental-health supports for students, anti-racism training and access to late French immersion classes in middle school.
The Ministry of Education and Child Care said in a statement that it is putting $8.05 billion into the education system in the 2023-24 fiscal year — an increase of 8.7 per cent over the previous year.
It said the Greater Victoria School District received just over $236 million in operating grants for the 2022-23 school year that the school board chooses how to distribute.
As well, the ministry said the 2023 provincial budget provides $1.96 billion province-wide over three years to fund public-school wage lifts related to the 2022 Shared Recovery Mandate, and that it allocated $1.95 million to the Greater Victoria School District as part of a $60-million fund “to help school districts make sure students and families who were struggling with rising costs due to global inflation are fed, and have the school supplies they need to be successful this year.”
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