NDP leader John Horgan believes a storm is coming to Surrey and the Premier has the means to prevent a catastrophe.
“We have a crisis in public education in this province and a government that seems oblivious to that,” said Horgan. “What the premier did in the last budget was put aside $100 million in a rainy day fund…..well I think it’s raining in Surrey right now.”
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning next to Katzie Elementary in Clayton Heights, Horgan – flanked by NDP MLA’s Bruce Ralston, Harry Bains, Sue Hammel and Surrey education Advocate Cindy Dalglish – was calling for a complete elimination of all portables across the district over the next four years.
Horgan suggested that the current Liberal government should redirect more funds toward the problem, along with building a healthier relationship with the district.
Combining the 275 portables located throughout Surrey would create the 24th-largest school district in the province according to Horgan, who said current overcrowding in Surrey schools is unacceptable.
The problems with portables go beyond just the structures themselves, he said. Student socialization and students’ feeling of isolation in a portable classroom and not feeling part of the school community are also major factors in a students’ education experience.
However, he does acknowledge the need for flexibility in certain areas to manage the influx of new students and modular classrooms (considered permanent structures by the province) make much more sense to balance those numbers in the short term, but not in the longer term.
“The long term is to make sure that you’ve got facilities hard-wired for the needs of the community as it exists today and as it will exist in the future,” he said. “It’s possible in Surrey that a child could have their entire education in a portable classroom. I don’t want that for my kids, parents don’t want that for their kids, either.”
For Dalglish, the other concerns with portables are the physical overcrowding of the school as a whole with students forced to use overcrowded gymnasiums, playgrounds and washroom facilities.
“The washrooms are packed, the gyms are packed, there’s staggered schedules, causing students to drop through the cracks,” said Dalglish.
She also acknowledged that the costs associated with maintaing portables comes from the district operating budget, that in turn means less money available for classrooms.
A recent announcement by the provincial government allocated $100 million towards a new high school in the Grandview area of South Surrey, a new elementary school in Clayton North and additions at three other elementary schools, creating 2,700 new school spaces.
But Dalglish said the schools and neighborhoods given priority were not necessarily the same areas the Surrey district felt were most pressing.
And with a completion date estimated to be 2020, by the time the new schools are built four years from now, 4,000 new students will have entered the system according to district estimates.
“This is not a new problem that they are facing. For the last 20 years, all estimates by school boards and Metro Vancouver predicted that Surrey would continue to grow at the rate that it is growing,” said Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains. “It’s estimated that another million people will be moving into the Lower Mainland by 2040…and so the (provincial government) announcements are actually putting us farther behind.
“It’s a lack of leadership, a lack of planning. It’s not a lack of money.”