Many Greater Victoria parents were enraged last week when the school district’s budget survey asked them to rank the importance of Indigenous students’ needs against those of non-Indigenous ones.
The Budget Prioritization Survey, which ended May 5, was intended to give concerned community members an opportunity to communicate priorities and concerns surrounding the Greater Victoria School District’s (SD61) 2021-22 budget and $7 million deficit.
But multiple questions left parents feeling offended.
“There are huge issues of equity here,” Jen Stewart, who has two kids in the district, said.
She’s referencing question 5 – which has since been removed – in particular. In it, the survey asked participants to choose which of three goals they thought needed the most investment: supporting all learners’ personal and academic success, supporting Indigenous learners’ personal and academic success, or supporting all learners’ physical and mental well-being.
“It’s so contrary to the principles of reconciliation, to include Indigenous success as something you can rank higher or lower and to be decided by majority rules,” Stewart said.
Carey Newman, a parent and district Indigenous ad hoc committee member, said the district does a good job of supporting average and exceptional students, but it fails to meet the needs of Indigenous students and students with anxiety or different learning abilities. What the survey question failed to understand, Newman said, is that by supporting Indigenous learners the district would be supporting all.
“By asking people to rank that question, they’re asking people to rank basic rights,” he said.
Following an influx of negative feedback, the district removed the question earlier this week. Board chair Jordan Watters said the data from the question won’t be included in their decision-making process.
“It was inappropriate,” she agreed.
For parents, issues remained though. Another question asked survey takers to rank possible budget-cutting areas from least to most important. But, Stewart said, everything on the list – music, support staff, meal programs and mental health resources, among others – is essential to students.
“There you’re getting into human rights issues,” she said, noting that meals and supports for students with learning disabilities should never be up for debate.
The district needs to tighten everyone’s belts a little, rather than cutting certain programs entirely, Newman said, because once they’re gone they’ll likely never come back. In its April 27 meeting, the SD61 board did vote to reallocate some funds from administration back into music programs and education assistants. Band will now be offered to students in Grades 6 to 8.
Watters said the trustees will be considering all the data and feedback they have ahead of their May 17 budget vote.
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