More protests ahead of Greater Victoria school budget vote

Hundreds of students and their families lined a busy Victoria street Saturday to take a final stand against proposed cuts to the local school district's budget.

The protesters gathered along Douglas Street, carrying signs and playing instruments for passing traffic.

Many drivers honked their horns in support of the demonstrators, who are calling on the Greater Victoria School District's Board of Education to reject its proposed budget at its upcoming meeting.

"We’re trying to take a stand here to have the vote go a different way and not approve the proposed budget on Monday and make significant amendments," said Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association and one of the people protesting Saturday.

At issue is the school board's proposed solution to an anticipated $7 million shortfall for the coming school year.

Speaking to CTV News Vancouver Island last month, board chair Jordan Watters attributed the deficit to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the district lost 330 students - and the funding that comes with them - because of travel restrictions and other coronavirus-related changes.

B.C. law requires school boards to run balanced budgets, which means the school district cannot simply go into debt to fund its $286 million in annual expenses.

Instead, the board has proposed cuts to middle school music programs, educational assistants, clerical staff, counsellors and food programs, cuts that are expected to result in the loss of 37 jobs.

The teachers association has been lobbying the provincial government to change the law to allow school boards to run deficits for one year due to the pandemic.

On Saturday, Waldron also questioned the school board's budget assumptions.

“We feel they’re vastly underestimating the revenue that will be expected as kids return from other districts, from online learning and back to our school," she said.