UNITED BC Leader Kevin Falcon on Wednesday called out Premier David Eby and the NDP in the Legislature for breaking their 2017 promise to Surrey families to eliminate school portables by the end of their first term in government.
He said that not only had the NDP failed to eradicate portables, but they were also doubling up on them — “with double-decker portables” — and student learning was suffering as a result.
MEANWHILE, the Surrey Board of Education’s Chair Laurie Larsen and Vice Chair Gary Tymoschuk in a letter to Education Minister Rachna Singh on Tuesday pointed out that “provincial investments into capital projects for the Surrey School District have fallen significantly behind and urgent action is needed from the Ministry of Education and Child Care.”
They told Singh: “As a local MLA and Surrey resident, you are no doubt aware of the rapid growth that our community is experiencing. This past September alone we saw more than 2,200 new students enrolling in the district, bringing our student population to over 78,000. Based on population estimates from the provincial government, the City of Surrey and the district, it is clear that enrolment will continue increasing at a rapid pace in almost every school community in our district.”
The letter said: “Many of our schools are already operating far over capacity as population growth continues to outpace available space. To manage this growth, we are utilizing portables. However, this temporary strategy comes with its own set of challenges, including finding outdoor space for the structures, as well as the significant budget pressure they present as the district must pay for the cost of purchasing and moving portables from our operating budget.
“As you are aware, we have just begun an RFP process to purchase 30 new portables for September 2024. We are also preparing to move 39 portables from one site to another to manage projected enrolment growth for the 2023/24 school year. Moving these portables is creating a further strain on our already stretched operating budget, with a cost of approximately $4.8 million dollars. We’re finding ways to ensure our students continue to have safe and engaging learning environments, but the bottom line is that more and more students in our district will be learning in portables, and communal school spaces such as gyms and libraries will be shared by a greater number of students, affecting the time allotted to each class. And as more portables are added to already limited outdoor spaces, elementary play areas are being affected and our staff and secondary students are having to park on residential streets, which comes with its own challenges.
“We have tried to advocate for funding privately and held meetings with you, the Ministry, and local MLAs, including Minister [Bruce] Ralston, Minister [Harry] Bains and Minister [Jagrup] Brar. Unfortunately, these meetings have not resulted in sufficient funding to meet the level of growth we are experiencing. In addition, we are still waiting for approvals through internal provincial government processes for other projects, including additions to Tamanawis Secondary and Guilford Park Secondary.
“Continually finding costly short-term solutions to address these issues is becoming a challenge, and our board may have to make some very difficult decisions about staffing and programs and services, like moving or even eliminating our Programs of Choice, including French immersion, EKOlogy and the Intensive Fine Arts Academy. Without new rapid investments in our district and our students, we believe we are facing an extremely dire situation. The list of schools needing additions and the communities requiring new schools is only going to continue to grow. We need your support now so we can move forward with purchasing land and starting construction on much-needed school space to properly serve children and families in our fast-growing school district.
“We ask that the provincial government once again consider our capital requests in a timely manner. We cannot afford to continue ignoring this issue.”