Stacking of portable classrooms on Surrey school grounds is looking like a real possibility come September, as the district struggles to keep up with rising enrolment caused by rapid development throughout the city.
The issue has become serious enough, in fact, that it was raised during Question Period in the BC Legislature Wednesday (April 26) afternoon, with BC United (formerly BC Liberal) MLAs and NDP Premier David Eby trading shots across the aisle.
In 2017, the NDP government promised a “total removal of portables” in Surrey schools within a four-year period, noted Opposition leader Kevin Falcon.
Since then, the number of portables in the district has increased by more than 100.
“Here we are six years later and how are they doing? Well, in a truly remarkable twist, instead of eradicating the portables they’ve somehow managed to double the portables in Surrey.”
How did that happen, Falcon asked.
Eby, and Education Minister Rachna Singh, fired back, saying the current government is still “recovering” from a lack of new schools built between 2014 and 2017, when the BC Liberals were in office.
“Our infrastructure is facing major strains. We committed almost $100 million to Surrey, specifically because that community is growing so quickly. They are seeing the bulk of this growth,” Eby said.
Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford said the NDP have failed the students, staff and families of the district by not eliminating portables as promised. Singh replied that the ministry is working with the school board and new school sites and expansions are coming.
Earlier in the month, during their regular monthly school board meeting, Surrey trustees charged that the provincial government has not provided sufficient funding to meet the ongoing growth of the province’s largest school district, meaning that use of portables will likely continue to increase.
The capital funds are not enough to build the number of new schools that are needed, the board stated, noting that building additions to existing schools is not a solution because land is limited at multiple sites.
Throughout the Surrey school district, there will be more than 400 portables in use come September, the board estimates. Costs for the new portables come out of the district’s operating funds, which takes away funding from other school programs.
Following a motion presented by Trustee Terry Allen, the board voted unanimously to write a letter to the Ministry of Education and Child Care to express its discontent with the current level of funding and to request more money.
On Wednesday (April 26) morning, the district publicly released the letter.
The Surrey Board of Education has shared a letter with the Minister of Education and Child Care, and all local MLAs, highlighting the urgent need for investment in new schools and additions in our fast-growing district: https://t.co/ukAiFq6Awp#SurreyBC #WhiteRockBC #sd36learn pic.twitter.com/54WBRJABk1— Surrey Schools (@Surrey_Schools) April 26, 2023
“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,” reads the letter, signed by board chair and vice-chair Laurie Larsen and Gary Tymoschuk, respectively.
“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.”
Trustees noted they have met with local MLAs, including Singh, to explain how addressing the needs of students and staff will require more funds.
“Unfortunately, these meetings have not resulted in sufficient funding to meet the level of growth we are experiencing.”