Last chance to weigh in on Greater Victoria school budget priorities as district faces $4M deficit

School District 61, which serves the Greater Victoria area, is seeking public comments on budget priorities.  (Google Maps - image credit)
School District 61, which serves the Greater Victoria area, is seeking public comments on budget priorities. (Google Maps - image credit)

Friday is the last day for the public to suggest priorities to the Greater Victoria School District for next year's operating budget.

The school board will make final decisions in April.

It's currently projecting a structural deficit of $4 million, so the board is seeking guidance on what to include in the final budget. School districts in B.C. are required to balance their budgets.

Board chair Nicole Duncan said the budget shortfall is due to inflation and rising costs and no matching increase to the per-student funding that comes from the province.

She said the board's budget advisory committee couldn't come to a consensus on where to make cuts.

The committee sought feedback from stakeholders, and the board will consider those responses, as well as public comment when making its decisions next month.

"We really want to hear from the public," said Duncan, "about what their priorities are, where they would like to see the board making investments, making cuts."

At a public meeting on March 7, discussion groups were asked to suggest priorities around funding additional educational assistants, custodial services, music programs, technology, and the mental health and well-being of students.

People who were not at the meeting may send written submissions outlining their priorities by email.

'It's all about equity for students'

Tracy Humphreys, the head of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC), said equity is the number one priority she hears from parents.

She said that can range from additional supports for students with disabilities to anti-racism programs.

"Whether it's about the challenges in keeping and hiring education assistants (EAs), teachers, specialist teachers, counsellors, mental health, it's all about equity for students."

The VCPAC also said it hopes music classes aren't targeted as much as they have been in the past.

Music programs have been the subject of heated debate at the district's budget meetings.

For the Greater Victoria Teachers Association (GVTA), the priority is broader: keep the money where it supports student services.

That can overlap with the suggestions of the VCPAC: funding EAs, school counsellors and teachers.

But it can also mean classroom resources, said GVTA president Ilda Turcotte.

She said budget decreases to some secondary schools this year created challenges for teachers of courses like metal and woodworking and foods.

"They needed to purchase supplies for their students in order to run their classes," said Turcotte. "So I know many of those folks had to rethink and redesign their course due to the reduced budget."

Difficult decisions

Both Turcotte and Humphreys said they don't envy the school board for having to make tight budgets.

They said if the province provided more funding, trustees would have more to work with.

"I really feel for this board and the staff at the district," said Humphreys.

"It's really, really difficult for them to be in this position and to make the really difficult decisions."

Members of the public have until 4 p.m. P.T. Friday to send their thoughts on budget priorities to