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Falcon says more money needed to build Surrey schools

After meeting with local high school students concerned about overcrowding, Kevin Falcon pledges: "We do have to make another significant capital investment in Surrey schools."
Students packed into Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon's boardroom Friday to air their concerns over school crowding.

Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon says more capital spending dollars are needed for Surrey schools – a lot more.

Falcon made the assessment after meeting with local high school students Friday afternoon.

A group of about 60 students from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary – site of a morning walkout over timetable changes and cramped conditions – descended on his constituency office in Cloverdale to ask for more provincial funding.

"We do have to make another significant capital investment in Surrey schools," Falcon said, calling their complaints about the new timetable and other concerns legitimate.

The former Health Minister asked the students to suggest short-term solutions to School District 36's crowding problem at Lord Tweedsmuir, which is moving to a split timetable to accommodate more students – an unpopular plan with students, parents and the teachers' union.

The district hasn't seen any new capital funds since 2005, forcing the school board to ask schools to take on more students, without adding more portables due to budget constraints.

"I will take that message back [to Victoria]," he promised, agreeing to a follow-up meeting with the students on the issue – a request made by student Jordan Malcolm.

Falcon said he liked a number of their alternate suggestions, including having teachers share classrooms during spare blocks and reactivating old portables that aren't in use.

"They actually came up with some really good ideas," he said later. "I was blown away."

The session with their MLA seemed to help smooth over any hard feelings the student protesters may have been harbouring after being told at lunchtime by school administrators to return to class or leave school grounds for safety purposes.

As many as 400 students staged a walkout first thing in the morning. By noon, the number had dwindled, as students returned to class.

About 60 students decided to take their concerns to their MLA, who immediately dropped prior plans and rushed back to meet with them.

"I feel the school is trying to stop us," Grade 9 student Danica Allen said, as she waited outside Falcon's office. "We want our voices heard."

Once inside, another student wondered why the number of new schools in the district weren't keeping pace with the massive residential growth.

Falcon agreed Surrey's rapid population growth is a contributing factor in the school enrolment crunch.

"What happens is we get these massive subdivisions that start appearing out of nowhere and what often happens is, even taking into account planned growth, it often goes beyond that" he said.

"And you also have secondary suites in virtually every other home, so the number of kids is actually way more than anyone ever anticipates and the system tries to respond and it's very very challenging."

He advised the students to compose a short list of short-term suggestions to help alleviate crowding at their school and to send it to the school board chair – along with a copy to him.

He cautioned there may be some delay until after premier-designate Christy Clark appoints her new cabinet later this month.

The Lord Tweedsmuir protest followed the walkout Tuesday afternoon by students at Earl Marriott Secondary, which is also introducing extended operating hours next year to deal with cramped conditions.

Both high schools are operating past student capacity, and are expecting enrolment to jump next fall.

Student enrolment at Lord Tweedsmuir is expected to rise to 1,800 students next September – 150 more than the current 1,650, already over capacity.

A March 3 letter from principal Allan Buggie to parents and guardians warning of the student protest said no decision has been made on Lord Tweedsmuir's bell schedule and plans for a flexible timetable. "We are still collecting data to determine how to plan for next year.

Buggie also said parents, guardians and students wanting to express concerns about funding for additional schools can write Falcon, and included his email address in the letter.