Catchment conundrum

Families moving to rapidly-expanding Willoughby area, cannot be sure their children will attend school in the neighbourhood

Families moving to rapidly-expanding areas of Langley Township, primarily in Willoughby, cannot be sure their children will attend school in the neighbourhood.

That was the word from Langley School District secretary-treasurer David Green, when he spoke to Langley Township council last week. He said the school district has space available for all students, but in some areas, specific schools have no space.

Nowhere is this more true than in Willoughby. The area continues to grow rapidly, with extensive new construction. Many of the homes being built are designed for families with children.

Langley does have the school space to accommodate new students who move to Willoughby right now. Unfortunately, many of the schools with space are located miles away from Willoughby.

The provincial government has been slow to free up money to build schools in Willoughby.

R.C. Garnett Elementary was built during the first wave of development in Willoughby, but then there was a long delay before any more money was made available.

Three other schools have been built since that time, with the most recent one, Yorkson Creek Middle School, opening last September.

However, the school district has been told by the province that it will need to come up with as much as 50 per cent of the capital costs of any new school. It would like to build a new high school in Willoughby to take pressure off Mountain Secondary, but that will cost it $30 million in capital funds.

As it has very little money in cash, Langley Board of Education is looking at property sales to fund future capital costs.

However, it has taken the Langley Secondary property off the table, as the board has decided to keep the school open. Lochiel school, used for a home schooling program where students occasionally come to class, is likely to be closed, following a consultation process. There will be a public meeting on the issue on Wednesday, May 13.

The board will not make a final decision until June 9.

Lochiel is located in a rural area of south Langley where there will never be a large number of students. Plans have the program moving to Simonds Elementary, where there is space available.

I’ve been reading some B.C. political history in recent weeks. Several sources point out that, from the 1950s to 1970s, and possibly for a much longer period, school districts were responsible for paying half the capital costs of any construction projects.

Keep in mind that those were times when a lot of new schools were needed, with growth in many parts of the province and no shortage of children. Those were the years that baby boomers were heading off to school.

In  those days, school districts had the ability to borrow money on their own through long-term bond sales, and referenda were held to get voters’ backing for the program, which of course meant higher property taxes due to borrowing costs.

Rather than fund new construction through property sales, perhaps school districts should once again be allowed to borrow money on their own to help fund capital projects. There may be a more efficient way of doing so, through provincial agencies, but why not shift part of the burden for new school construction onto local taxpayers, as was once the case?

In Langley, there would be a lot of support for new schools from many residents.