SAANICH, B.C. -- Reynolds Secondary School students took their music to the streets on Thursday to show their opposition to proposed cuts to middle school music programs in the Greater Victoria School District.

“We’re going to feel it in the high schools if the cuts go through; if students don’t get to experience music in middle schools,” said Nadia Lurie, a Grade 12 student at Reynolds Secondary School.

School District 61 runs on a $286-million annual budget. This year, it is facing a $7-million shortfall.

“We’re funded on a per-pupil basis,” said Jordan Watters, chair of the Greater Victoria Board of Education. “We’ve lost 330 students through the pandemic.”

The district’s International Program has taken a huge hit and rentals of its facilities have also dried up completely.

“School boards are required, under the School Act, we’re legislated, we have to deliver a balanced budget,” said Watters. “So no, we’re not allowed to carry a deficit.”

Cindy Romphf is the president of the Greater Victoria Music Educators Association.

“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Romphf.

Romphf teaches music in the district. She says the proposed cuts to music programs are misplaced.

“All the studies are pointing at the earlier that a child can be exposed to music education, it benefits them throughout the rest of their life,” said Romphf.

The Greater Victoria Teachers Association says budget cuts aren’t just going to hurt students in music programs.

“It’s not just the cuts to music, it’s the cuts to education assistants that will hurt our most vulnerable kids,” said Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association. “It’s the cuts to the gifted programs that will hurt our most vulnerable kids because they don’t get that extra support outside of school.”

Karin Kwan has two children involved in music programs. She says the province can play a role in this dispute.

“We have been lobbying the MLAs as much as we have been lobbying the trustees,” said Kwan. “We’ve made so many concessions due to COVID, why can’t school districts be able to carry a deficit for the year?”

For now, that’s not an option for the school district, and it says something has to give.

“I can’t stress it enough that no decisions have been made,” said Watters. “I expect there will be adjustments to the proposals as they move forward.”

The school board is expected to make a final decision at a meeting on May 17.