The band-and-strings program in Vancouver elementary schools is facing a new challenge. Had it not been for last-minute, one-time funding from the provincial government last year, the program would have been eliminated for the current school year.
With the district facing another budget shortfall, the question is where to find the almost $631,000 needed to keep it going in the school year starting in September.
“As it stands, it was funded with one-time funding for one year. There is no funding in the budget right now to cover the cost of band and strings, and, in fact, we have another $15-million shortfall,” school trustee Patti Bacchus told the Straight by phone.
Bacchus was chair of the Vision Vancouver–majority school board that managed to spare the program from service cuts made to address a projected $12-million budget shortfall in school year 2014–15.
In the last election, Vision lost control of the nine-member board, which is now held by trustees from the Non-Partisan Association with the backing of a lone Green trustee.
The district had engaged Valerie Overgaard, a retired associate superintendent in the Vancouver school system, to see how the band-and-strings program could be maintained in the 52 elementary schools where it is offered.
Following consultations with various stakeholders, Overgaard prepared a report that’s included in the agenda of the education and student services committee meeting on Wednesday (February 11).
In her report, Overgaard noted that some parents favour a user-pay model. Students currently pay an annual fee of $25 each. According to Overgaard, it was pointed out by a number of parents that a $250 annual fee for each participant could sustain the program.
Overgaard also stated that one option is to offer band instruction to Grade 7 students only. Another is to limit the strings program to grades 5 to 7 students, instead of including Grade 4 students.
Vision school trustee Mike Lombardi described the situation as one of “Sophie’s choice”.
Lombardi told the Straight by phone that because of the chronic underfunding of education, “All we have is a choice of bad choices.”