British Columbia

Protesting over proposed cuts to music in Victoria schools is premature, education minister says

Jennifer Whiteside says a draft budget for School District 61 that includes cuts to elementary and middle school music programs in September is not necessarily a done deal.

'It's a little soon to be determining or assuming there will actually be cuts,' Jennifer Whiteside says

The Greater Victoria school district is dealing with a $7 million deficit. A draft budget for the district includes cuts to elementary- and middle-school music programs. (Shutterstock / Wirestock Creators)

The possibility that elementary and middle school music programs in Victoria could be axed come September is just that — a possibility, not necessarily an absolute, according to British Columbia's education minister.

School District 61, which encompasses Greater Victoria, is dealing with a $7 million deficit and a draft budget for the upcoming academic year includes cuts to elementary- and middle-school music programs.

Since the proposed cuts were made public earlier this month, students have taken to the streets in protest and parents and teachers have voiced their concerns.

Speaking on Monday on CBC's On The Island, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said she understands those concerns, but added that the district's proposed cuts are not set in stone yet.

"It's quite possible that they are going to wind up this year with a surplus budget," said Whiteside. "It's a little soon to be determining or assuming there will actually be cuts."

No decisions have been made

Whiteside said she told the board last week that the ministry would like to work with the district to see how things are looking in September, and how the province can help the board best navigate the budget.

"They are in a process, they are consulting with their constituents, they haven't, as I understand it, made any final decisions and we are going to do what we can to support them," said the minister.

 

SD61 board chair Jordan Watters told CBC on April 12 that she was proud of students for taking a stance, but nothing was certain yet.

"We're always listening. I'm getting a tidal wave of emails coming in. And we are in the middle of the process here. To be clear, no decisions have been made," Watters said. 

The district's deficit, she said, is partly due to the pandemic's impact on international student program revenues and partly because the district operated on structural deficits in the past.

Other proposed cuts to the budget include clerical staff to district principals. alongside shifts in funding around educational assistants and gifted educational programming.

Normally, the budget process would be coming to an end in April, but it has been extended this year to May 30 to allow for feedback and discussion.

Gregor Craigie spoke with BC's Education Minister, Jennifer Whiteside, about concerns over balancing the budget of the Greater Victoria School District. 9:06

With files from On The Island

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