Fallout from Victoria school district's budget proposal raises concerns about reconciliation

·3 min read
School District 61, which serves the Greater Victoria area, has been under fire in recent weeks for proposed budget cuts that include music programs for elementary and middle schools. (Google Maps - image credit)
School District 61, which serves the Greater Victoria area, has been under fire in recent weeks for proposed budget cuts that include music programs for elementary and middle schools. (Google Maps - image credit)

Tensions around the Victoria school district's budget continue to mount with an accusation that proposed budget cuts run counter to reconciliation with Indigenous students.

School District 61 has a $7-million deficit, and it's considering cuts to music programs for elementary and middle schools to deal with it, drawing protest from students, parents and teachers.

Last week, a presentation on the budget process insinuated that the cuts were on the table because of a lack of Indigenous student participation in music programs.

As a result, parent Carey Newman resigned from the district's Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee. He said one of the presentation slides posed the question: "do Indigenous students participate in band?"

"That was it for me," Newman said.

In a letter to School District 61, Carey Newman said that "reconciliation is not about diminishing access and programs until everyone faces the structural denial experienced by Indigenous people, it is about removing barriers so that Indigenous people have the same success as everyone else."
In a letter to School District 61, Carey Newman said that "reconciliation is not about diminishing access and programs until everyone faces the structural denial experienced by Indigenous people, it is about removing barriers so that Indigenous people have the same success as everyone else."(CBC/Mike McArthur)

The presentation questioned whether the music program helped increase Indigenous completion rates and suggested the district should focus on literacy instead, he said.

"[They're] now comparing music and Indigenous students' literacy, which is really divisive, and it's counter to the idea of reconciliation," he said.

"It has the effect of saying that for them, equity means bringing down the level of access and opportunity for all students, not raising the level for Indigenous students, and I was pretty upset by that."

To hear Carey Newman's interview, and Jordan Watters' response on CBC's All Points West, tap here:

He wrote a letter to the district outlining his concerns, which began well before the budget debacle, and reasons for his resignation.

"Reconciliation is not about diminishing access and programs until everyone faces the structural denial experienced by Indigenous people, it is about removing barriers so that Indigenous people have the same success as everyone else," the letter said.

"I am from a culture rich with music. As an Indigenous musician and father of a child who recently developed a love for violin while taking elementary strings, I am deeply offended by the suggestion that Indigenous students don't participate in music programming. Finally, implying that music cuts are needed to support Indigenous students is false, divisive, undermines the safety of all Indigenous students who attend school in SD61, and is the exact opposite of reconciliation."

School board chair Jordan Watters admitted the question on the presentation slide was inappropriate.

"I think we've got to really reflect deeply on the missteps that we've taken here," she said.

"When mistakes happen, we have to own those with courage and humility. I want to apologize, just personally apologise for those missteps."

She said the budget should be focused on making sure every student in the district is able to be successful, and identifying where the district is failing.

Watters said the district has contacted the First Nations Education Steering Committee and Ministry of Education for assistance in ensuring Indigenous voices are included at all levels of decision-making.

Victoria's school board is floating the idea of cutting music programs in elementary and middle school.
Victoria's school board is floating the idea of cutting music programs in elementary and middle school.(Alisa Ramakrishnan/File photo)

District seeks third party advisor

The district has delayed making a final decision on next year's budget, and a budget meeting scheduled for May 17 was postponed until further notice.

In a statement, Watters said she and the district's superintendent have asked the Ministry of Education to step in and help find an independent advisor to assist with the budget review.

"We heard the feedback from our learning community loud and clear, so we're requesting outside support to help the board balance and approve its budget," Watters said.

Kristil Hammer, president of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils and mother of two in the district, said she is "cautiously optimistic" about the latest development.

"It is great to hear that there's just a bit of a reprieve and a chance hopefully to reset and to approach the next stage in a thoughtful and transparent manner," she said.

To hear Kristil Hammer's interview on CBC's All Points West, tap here:

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