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Here we go again: cuts to counselling, music possible for Greater Victoria schools

Teachers, parents group concerned with how SD61 may address $7.2-million deficit
The proposed Greater Victoria School District budget for 2022-23 calls for signficant cuts, and as such has drawn criticism from local teachers association and parent advisory council reps. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Greater Victoria School District’s proposed budget is deja vu for teacher and parent groups, who say the large-scale potential cuts feel like 2021 all over again.

With a $7.2-million deficit, the district is looking at numerous cost-saving areas. Three in particular have caught the attention of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) and Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC): counsellors, music programs and daytime custodians.

Changes to counselling would see up to 19 positions cut – 10 school counsellors and nine Community LINK youth, family and outreach workers – for a total savings of $1.8 million.

GVTA president Winona Waldron and VCPAC director Angela Carmichael expressed dismay at the prospect, noting not only the traumas and challenges many students face day-to-day, but the severe impact the pandemic has had on young people’s mental health.

READ ALSO: Advocates say Canada’s youth mental health crisis has ‘life and death’ stakes

“Right now, our children need care and support more than ever, and access to mental health care is scarce,” Waldron wrote in a March 9 letter to SD61 secretary-treasurer Kim Morris.

In the music department, the district is proposing up to $1.2 million in cuts, which could do away with elementary strings, district ukulele, and middle school band and strings – all the programs the learning community fought to save in 2021. A different elementary strings program is proposed for $181,429.

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

Waldron and Carmichael’s final major concern is with the possible reduction of daytime custodians – a savings estimated at up to $631,334. Even as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted provincially, they said increased cleaning is important for student and staff safety.

Expressing these concerns to the district is more complicated than usual though, as the GVTA and VCPAC – among other SD61 rights and stakeholders – are boycotting board meetings in response to the board’s closed-door decision to suspend two trustees in February.

“I actually can’t believe the board is carrying on as if everyone is still at the table,” Waldron said. She and Carmichael said they don’t believe the budget should be getting voted on with just seven trustees remaining.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria trustees’ suspensions result of disparaging Twitter comments, board chair says

Asked how the meeting boycott could affect the budget, Morris simply said she hopes rights and stakeholders return soon. She emphasized that it’s her job to list every possible cost-saving strategy, regardless of how palatable the options are. It’s up to the board to make decisions based on the information.

Morris said the deficit is the result of spending too much during good times. It’s up to the board whether it lobbies the provincial government for more funding, she added, but SD61 is looking at increasing rentals and possibly running fundraising campaigns in the coming year to generate more revenue.

Carmichael said VCPAC is planning a protest in the coming days. If the board won’t lobby the government, she said, they will.

“We don’t care if they’re stuck between a rock and hard place. These are our children,” she said.

Black Press Media has reached out to the Songhees Nation and Esquimalt Nation, who are rights holders with the district, for comment.

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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