A funding announcement for a major school building project in Surrey on Thursday quickly turned to talk about the continuing teachers’ dispute.
The province called a media conference Thursday morning to re-announce the construction of $55-million high school in Clayton North. About $46 million of that is being funded by the province, while the school district has committed to $19 million.
The new school will provide 1,500 spaces for students from Grade 8 to 12, helping relieve cramped conditions at Clayton Heights and Lord Tweedsmuir secondary schools.
The government already committed to the project back in February 2013, but until Thursday, had not come through with the long-awaited funds in the rapidly growing neighbourhood. It’s anticipated the school will be completed by the spring of 2017.
In addition, 16 new classroom additions were announced for three overcrowded elementary schools, including Adams Road, Rosemary Heights and Morgan.
With schools overcapacity by about 4,000 students, Board of Education Chair Shawn Wilson was asked how much it helps to have only 1,500 more spaces two years from now.
“I think this goes a long way to getting us to a place where we can manage more efficiently,” Wilson said. “You can’t just drop money out of the sky and fix these problems right away, there’s processes – we’ll get through it.”
However, the funding announcement was quickly eclipsed by media questions about the protracted labour dispute with B.C. teachers, which, barring an unexpected agreement over the weekend, will delay the planned Sept. 2 start to the school year.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who is also the MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, dodged specifics about negotiations, noting those are hopefully in the hands of mediator Vince Ready.
“I’m not going to get into the details of things that are rightly at the negotiating table,” Fassbender said.
The province, he said, has already indicated it will let the courts decide on class size and composition issues so an agreement will be easier to reach.
Fassbender said he is optimistic a deal can be achieved between the two sides over the weekend, allowing kids to return to school on Tuesday.
In answer to a question, Fassbender said he was not concerned that the school announcement will be seen as a government attempt to distract the public from the school strike.
“Absolutely not,” Fassbender said. “We’re not stopping business just because we’re in a labour dispute… I don’t want the labour dispute to take attention away from important work that’s still ongoing.”
Fassbender clarified that the capital money for the school construction is entirely separate from operating money required to settled the teachers’ dispute.
Ready was expected to begin meeting with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and and government negotiator Peter Cameron this afternoon (Aug. 28) to begin exploratory talks.