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COLUMN: ATTENTION VICTORIA!
Please excuse the in-your-face upper-case typography (and seldom-used exclamation point), but in an effort to attract your awareness, all stops must be pulled.
Because while various education ministers have been politely listening to the concerns consistently put forward by B.C.’s largest school district over the years, it’s clear Surrey isn’t being heard.
This district hasn’t received any capital funding from the provincial government to build new schools since 2005. The fruit of that investment – Adams Road Elementary in Cloverdale – just opened in January of this year.
But that’s all folks. No more new schools are on the drawing board, even though the district owns at least three pieces of land that would be suitable for that purpose (in the Douglas, Hazelgrove and Sullivan areas).
This despite the fact that Surrey is B.C.’s fastest-growing school district, with 800 new students arriving last fall and 1,170 more kids expected next year. Total enrolment will soon top 70,000.
In fact, 41 of the province’s 60 school districts combined have fewer students than Surrey has housed in its 232 portables.
“How do you defend that as a government?” wonders Surrey Board of Education chair Laurae McNally.
Now, trustees know there has been some capital money provided by the province for seismic upgrading and the purchase of modulars for students displaced by all-day kindergarten classes.
But that doesn’t construct new schools.
Trustees also know that Surrey’s funding is determined the same way every other school district’s funding is: by the number of students actually sitting in seats each September – not how many more are projected to arrive.
That’s the problem. The current one-size-fits-all funding formula favours districts with declining enrolment.
As such, Surrey is currently facing a $10-million operating budget shortfall (money that pays for things such as salaries, programs, supplies, utilities and services that keep schools functioning).
And no one, not even the bean-counters in Victoria, can adequately explain the discrepancy in CommunityLINK funding – money used to support at-risk youth in schools.
Vancouver, with a declining enrolment of 52,000 students, receives about $8.7 million annually through CommunityLINK, while Surrey gets about $3.7 million. Victoria, with one-third the number of students as this district, also receives about $3.7 million.
This unfair situation means Surrey must carve out $400,000 from its operating budget to fund things such as meal programs and after-school activities for low-income and inner-city kids.
District Supt. Mike McKay says we need a “made-in-Surrey” funding solution.
Until then, temporary Band-Aids will have to suffice. That means even more portables; longer school days; online learning; classes outside of regular school hours; and “hybrid” courses (made up of web-based and face-time instruction).
These are not long-term fixes. By any study, Surrey’s population – especially its young people – is not going decrease in the foreseeable future.
So how about it, Victoria? Will you finally address the status-quo funding model that has Surrey schools bursting at the seams with no relief in sight?
In an editorial board meeting with The Leader and its sister paper The Peace Arch News on Wednesday, trustees were tight-lipped on who they were hoping would win the Liberal leadership vote – and become the next premier – tomorrow (Saturday).
But McNally was adamant about one thing:
“We’re going to be on the doorstep of whoever is in there.”
Surrey is determined to be heard.
Contact your Liberal MLA to lobby for more equitable funding of Surrey schools: