Pacific Heights Elementary students gave a coding demonstration at the funding announcement Dec. 7. (Aaron Hinks photo)

City, activists say school funding announcement ‘step in the right direction’

Minister questioned on funding for portables

City officials and activists agree that last week’s announcement to build a new South Surrey school and expand another was a step in the right direction.

However, district parent advisory council president Karen Tan also notes more still needs to be done.

Tan attended Thursday’s funding announcement event held at Pacific Heights Elementary, where the province announced $24 million to build a new elementary school in Grandview Heights and a $9 million expansion to Pacific Heights.

Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming were unable to attend because their flight was grounded in Victoria due to fog.

Although it was announced that questions would be limited to the media, Tan introduced herself and asked two questions to Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains during a media scrum.

Tan asked if the provincial government would fully fund the district’s $4.2 million annual expense to operate 317 portables in the district.

“I think, right now, today’s announcement is about the expansion, and I know the ministry and the school are working together to see how we can alleviate,” Bains responded.

Tan then asked if the announced changes were to be fully funded by the province; Bains confirmed, and a communications co-ordinator then asked to “keep questions to the media.”

Following the event, Peace Arch News contacted Tan to get her reaction to the minister’s answer.

“I knew that he wasn’t going to talk about the $4.2 million for portables, but no one else has this problem in the province. We’re the only district that has this problem,” Tan said.

Tan said the funding announcement is a good start, noting that the Grandview Heights school was prioritized as the most important out of a list of 22 new schools or expansions that DPAC would like to see funded, after the province announced it would allocate $217 million for up to 5,200 new school seats in Surrey.

“I’m hoping that this money being spent is coming from the current budget that’s going to end in March 2018 and not the new budget when they set it for 2018-2019,” Tan said.

In a media release, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner notes that the city “welcomes today’s announcement.”

“With the demands that have been placed on our school system, these projects will help address the overcrowded classrooms and the proliferation of portables in Surrey,” Hepner said in the release. “With the tremendous growth that Surrey has been experiencing, the infrastructure of our school system has been sorely left behind. I want to commend Premier (John) Horgan and Minister of Education, Rob Fleming for not only recognizing the need in Surrey but acting on addressing the issues of portables and overcrowding that have plagued Surrey schools for far too long.”

The Grandview Heights elementary (16650 23 Ave.) is expected to add 655 seats to the district, and the Pacific Heights (17148 26 Ave.) expansion will mark an addition of 300 seats.

A release from the province notes that “work continues on the new 1,500-seat Salish Secondary, a new 1,500-seat Grandview Heights secondary, one new 605-seat Clayton-area elementary and one new 655-seat Clayton-area elementary.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said the Dec. 7 announcement was a “step in the right direction.”

“We are hopeful for a more holistic announcement on fully-funded projects in high growth areas in B.C.,” Huberman said in a release.

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