Education Minister George Abbott kept using variations of the word “challenge” during a half-hour conference call with reporters this week to discuss the coming school year.
“It may be a somewhat more challenging school year,” the minister said. “There’s not a lot of room for optimism.”
He was talking specifically about the deadlocked contract talks with teachers, but he sounded equally gloomy about the impact of the HST defeat on funding for new schools in Surrey and Langley, where population growth in some neighbourhoods has outpaced school construction.
“It (the HST defeat) adds an additional dimension into what is a challenging situation,” the minister said Tuesday.
There is a need for capital investment, Abbott added, but it won’t be easy to fund.
Even without the loss of revenue from the HST, the drop in revenues created by the international economic “meltdown” has forced the government to tighten its belt, Abbott warned.
“It is not a time we can be expansive when it comes to spending,” he said. “We don’t have that choice.”
While Surrey School Board chair Laurae McNally said she has heard government officials talk of having to tighten the purse-strings, she said Wednesday that she believes they recognize Surrey’s unique position as a growing school district.
“(Finance Minister) Kevin Falcon is on record… as saying the HST will affect operating situations, but it won’t affect capital projects because they’re job-creating projects,” McNally said.
Abbott spent a day touring the Surrey district earlier this year, and echoed the sentiments, she said.
“They’ve made the comments publicly… we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.
McNally noted Premier Christy Clark has been talking about a job-creation strategy, and suggested new schools would fit the bill.
“A good way to create jobs here locally is by building schools,” she said. “I do believe, truly, they understand we’re an anomaly in the province. But it’s time for them to act.”
– with files from Tracy Holmes