From left

From left

Earl Marriott Secondary parents spread the word

Overcrowding concerns prompt PAC to stage day of action

Parents hit the pavement outside Earl Marriott Secondary Monday morning to protest overcrowding in the Surrey School District.

Organized by the school’s parent advisory committee, drivers dropping off students were given  information regarding the stalled efforts to build a new school in the South Surrey/Grandview area to alleviate the growing issue of overcrowding, which led to an extended schedule being adopted at the South Surrey secondary school two years ago.

“We’ve been waiting on this site for a couple of years,” said PAC vice-president Bob Holmes, who has a daughter in Grade 8. “We really wanted to get something out as the election is coming up. We really want to push this issue.”

Overcrowding in South Surrey schools has been an ongoing issue, with parents reaching out to the city, school district and province, including a 2011 postcard campaign addressed to Premier Christy Clark.

Late last year, concerned teachers wrote to the PAC, saying the flex schedule had failed to fix overcrowding and that students were at risk.

“With over 500 extra students, many staff at Earl Marriott Secondary believe the safety of students may be compromised in the event of a real emergency,” wrote teacher Mark Figueira.

While this week’s day of action targeted parents, PAC member Diana Bonner noted individual teachers have shown support.

“I’m sure the teachers are more tired of it than the parents, because I know some of the teachers who have to be in three different locations throughout the day because there are so many kids in the school,” said Bonner, who has two children attending EMS.

“It’s a challenge, it’s not ideal for anyone. Not for the teachers or the students either. The school is bursting at its seams.”

Mother-of-three Stacey MacDonald noted that while the recent infrastructure upgrades in the area are welcome, the funds would have been better used to construct a new school.

“I have a Grade 11 daughter, a Grade 8 son and Grade 5 son, so technically it’s three drop-offs everyday and three pickups,” she said, contrasting the need for a new school and the need for freeway on-ramps being built east of the school.

“My son, when we were going down the highway the other day, said, ‘$24 million for this bridge?’… I drive those roads a lot and they’re not that busy. Yet this is an absolute necessity.”

In January, the district announced it would put up $5 million to hire architects to design two new $35-million secondary schools – in Grandview and in Cloverdale – as well as expand two elementary schools. The funds were taken from the district’s capital reserve fund, with a guarantee that the province would repay the district.

“It seems like we’re getting close, we’ve bought the land and put money aside for the planning, but the money isn’t there for the building,” Holmes said. “Not knowing where it will end is very frustrating.”

And the longer the wait, the worse it will get, noted Holmes.

“Our concern is that if it’s not dealt with before this election, will the government in power put the money forward right away? Might be they put a hold on spending for sometime, then the school gets put on hold for a year or two… The problem isn’t going to get any better.”

However, Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg told Peace Arch News Monday that while he appreciates the concerns of parents, the project is on track to completion.

“The funding for the first stage has been guaranteed, so the architects and engineers are doing their work now,” he said. “We won’t be behind at all with respect to funding being in place for that. As for the final phase, my expectation is before the planning process is complete that funding will be in place and we’ll move right ahead.

“If it is fast-tracked and goes smoothly, it could happen in three years.”