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Government ‘can’t continue to ignore the needs of the Surrey school district’, says school board

Trustees pass motion to send a letter to the Ministry of Education to ask for more money
Surrey school board Trustee Terry Allen (pictured) presented a motion to write a strongly worded letter to the government to ask for more money for the district. (file photos)

The Surrey school board has unanimously passed a motion to send a “strongly worded” letter to the Ministry of Education and Child Care to plead for more money to address over-crowding in the district’s schools.

During the board’s regular meeting last week (April 19), Trustee Terry Allen brought forward a motion to write a letter to the provincial government “clearly outlining the dissatisfaction” with next year’s school budget.

According to Surrey Schools officials, no figures have yet been projected for the 2023-2024 school year; those are to be presented to the board for approval on May 10. The current-year budget, to June 30, is $970.3 million, while for the 2021-2022 school year, 922.8 million was approved.

It is no secret that schools in Surrey – the largest district in B.C. – have been running over-capacity, with more students learning inside portables, separated from many of their peers and farther from washrooms, libraries and the larger school community.

The situation is exacerbated by enrolment numbers throughout the district this year that are more than double what was projected.

READ MORE: Surrey school district looking at ‘urban’ school models to combat over-crowding

More than 2,200 new students have been enrolled in the Surrey school district this year, when the funding was for 750.

If a solution is not brought to the table, Allen said, schools will have to start stacking portables on top of one another. They are also taking away students’ play areas, he added.

“Government, no matter what government, can’t continue to ignore the needs of the Surrey school district, but more importantly, the students of Surrey.”

In February, the board met with Education Minister Rachna Singh, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke, city councillors, local MLAs and others to discuss the needs of the district. Multiple trustees said the meeting went well, but they also agreed that action is what is needed.

“I’m tired of us sitting in committee meetings, wringing our hands about this and really not doing anything and trying to be good and meet with the MLAs and hope that they understand, and that obviously hasn’t worked,” said Trustee Laurae McNally.

“This is the worst I have ever, ever seen it and I think we need to be very strong and very firm and let our community know exactly how serious this is. Never mind the situation along the SkyTrain route, it’s all the growth in the district.

“Our students and our staff deserve much better.”

In an emailed response, Singh said the ministry is “committed to delivering” modern, safe schools for kids and families, and that “over half a billion dollars in new funding” will create 10,000 new seats – the equivalent of eliminating 400 portables.

Efforts are continuing “as we make up for years of infrastructure deficits left by the old government,” Singh said in the April 21 statement.

At the board meeting, Trustee Garry Thind pointed to a promise by former premier John Horgan that, if elected, he would get rid of all portables in Surrey within four years. He was voted in as B.C.’s premier in May 2017.

“We had about 250 portables back in 2017, we are at 360 portables right now and we are going over 400 portables in September (2024),” Thind said.

While Ministry of Education and Child Care officials said six new schools and 11 school expansions have been completed in Surrey since 2017, school trustees said adding expansion after expansion to existing schools is not sustainable in the board’s eyes because land space is limited.

The budget the district receives is far from sufficient, because the cost of the portables comes out of that budget, Allen said.

Another concern is the wait-time between the approval of a new school site by the ministry to the actual groundbreaking. Trustee and Vice-Chair Gary Tymoschuk noted that a new school, Ta’talu Elementary, received approval in 2020 and is now under construction, while Snokomish Elementary was approved in 2021 and has yet to break ground.

Both were named by the ministry as among five projects underway to address enrolment growth.

“If somebody came along to us today and said ‘We’ll build you two new schools,’ not one of these students would go to that school for five years,” said Allen.

Larsen, who is from the Fleetwood neighbourhood, said that development in the area, especially with SkyTrain coming, has affected families.

“The students who move to the (Fleetwood) area cannot attend that school. It is full. They need to bus to Frankhurt or to Enver Creek so you can imagine as parents, you buy a house with the school across the street and then you realize your child can’t attend that school and this is now even before the Skytrain’s gone through,” Larsen said.

Tymoschuk described the situation the school district is going through as “dire.”

“It’s bad and it’s getting worse.”

- files from Tracy Holmes

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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