Just shy of 20 students, staff and teachers stood outside a Greater Victoria School District (SD61) building Tuesday night waving signs, playing instruments and protesting proposed cuts to their music programs.
Inside, the board of trustees and district staff sat in on an in-camera meeting with newly appointed financial adviser, Joan Axford.
Axford, who has 14 years of experience as a school board secretary-treasurer and 10 more as a financial consultant, was brought on last week to review SD61’s controversial budget process.
One of the main sticking points in the process has been cuts that would eliminate much of the elementary and middle school music programs. Initially, the $1.5 million worth of cuts proposed to erase all programs except Grade 8 band, but following weeks of protests and public backlash, the board reinstated approximately $500,000 to retain Grade 6 to 8 band.
But that still leaves choir and strings programs on the chopping block.
“We’re hoping no programs will be eliminated and the cuts won’t be as deep as they initially proposed,” music teacher and Greater Victoria Music Educators’ Association president Cindy Romphf said. “They’re so vital.”
|Students protesting outside a SD61 building Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Cindy Romphf)|
Having taught music for 18 years, Romphf said she’s never seen the community rally together so powerfully.
“I feel like we’ve brought to light what people really find important,” she said. During the pandemic, her students have said music classes have been their lifeline.
“A lot of them expressed this is the only class they have fun in. They’re able to relax and be themselves,” Romphf said. Protesting and standing up for what they love has been exciting for them, she added, but they’re also dreading the possibility of a negative outcome.
Axford’s report and recommendations on the budget process are scheduled to be released on the district’s website at 2 p.m. today (May 26). On Thursday evening, people are invited to attend a final virtual feedback meeting before the board’s budget vote next Monday.
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