SD64 facing budget pressures

SIMS parents ask for more music time

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Parents of Salt Spring Island Middle School music students have asked the Gulf Islands School District to reconsider funding choices related to the SIMS music program.

A delegation led by Kim Thompson and Magnolia Paulker at the June 12 SD64 meeting asked the board to increase the music teacher’s hours.

A letter sent to district superintendent Scott Benwell that was signed by 63 concerned parents discussed the amount of unpaid hours that current music teacher Keith Ollerenshaw put into the position, and said that a higher full-time equivalency portion is needed to have a functional music program in the school.

“Simply put, a program built upon such a high number of volunteer hours is not sustainable,” the letter reads. “Any program that depends upon unpaid labour to such a degree will not be able to grow, flourish and thrive over time and across the years from middle through high school.”

In May, parents were worried about the possibility the hours allotted to music at the middle school would be reduced. Teaching hours are set out in terms of full time equivalency — with 1.0 being full-time — and allocated based on funding availability, as well as scheduling concerns.

In previous years, the music teacher position has fluctuated between 0.2 FTE and 0.6 FTE. In the 2018-19 school year, the position was set at 0.4 FTE.

The board has confirmed the SIMS music program will stay at 0.4 FTE next year. The board has also honoured a request made by SIMS administration to make the position a continuing one, rather than one that teachers would need to apply for year by year.

Bringing up the teaching hours would give the music program at SIMS more rehearsal time, which parent Kim Thompson explained is important to skill development.

The school district is facing a period of rebuilding after encountering a deficit brought on by an enrollment audit. Approximately 1,500 students are enrolled in the Gulf Islands School District, but it fluctuates each year. Going into 2019-20, the board is expecting to have fewer enrolled students due to a small kindergarten class and a large outgoing graduating cohort. There will be 60 fewer students at the high school alone, meaning a budget reduction of close to $600,000.

“The presentation about increasing music and band programs across our district is experienced …  as a pressure,” said superintendent Scott Benwell during the meeting. “This year, with diminishing resources, there has been a commitment to maintain [the SIMS music program].”

A student rep and another parent who attended the school board meeting also asked why an English Lit 12 class is not being offered at GISS this coming year. The board explained that not enough students had registered for the class to have it go ahead.

Going into the next five years, the school district will be scaling back operations in an effort to recover from years of financial instability. The board has been approved for $1.2 million in relief funding and hope to rebuild their surplus funds to protect against future funding challenges. They are predicting a drop in revenue over the next five years, and will be looking to live within the means allotted to the district.

For more on this story, see the June 19, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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