Premier Christy Clark discusses over-crowding in Surrey schools

‘I have to think we can do better for Surrey,’ Clark says of schools

Board chair warns long-standing overcrowding problems are coming to a head

A made-in-Surrey funding formula to provide relief for overcrowded schools in the district is not in the cards, according to Premier Christy Clark.

But Clark believes there is room for improvement when it comes to keeping up with growth in Surrey and other burgeoning districts.

“Surrey has a problem, we’re trying to do our best to keep up,” Clark said during a round-table discussion with the editorial team at The Surrey-North Delta Leader on Tuesday. “I have to think we can we can do it better for Surrey and for districts that are growing.”

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Schools in Surrey – the province’s fastest-growing school district – continue to burst at the seams with increasing enrolment, and the Surrey Board of Education is in a constant battle to accommodate the nearly 1,000 additional students coming to the district each year.

New schools often open their doors with as many as 10 portables already in place. Those portables come with a hefty cost – $4 million in annual maintenance that comes directly out of the district’s operating budget.

At Kwantlen Park Secondary, students and parents are now being asked for input on how to alleviate the impact of ongoing overcrowding, including the possibility of redistributing some of the students to nearby L.A. Matheson and Queen Elizabeth Secondary schools.

Clark noted there has been an increase in funding of 70 per cent on a per-pupil basis for Surrey students.

However Surrey Board of Education Chairman Shawn Wilson said those numbers can be deceiving.

“With declining enrolment on a provincewide basis, they weren’t reducing the funding envelope with the reduction of students, so theoretically the students were getting more money because they are fewer students eating from the same pie,” said Wilson.

“So it seems to me government looked at the whole picture and said everyone is declining – forgetting that there were some growing districts.”

Wilson does acknowledge that a district growing by 50 students is relatively easy to manage, but said when a district is getting 800 to 1,000 additional students annually and has done so for 15 years, something should change. He said there needs to be a mechanism in place to recognize the uniqueness of Surrey and the provincial government has traditionally been reluctant to do that.

“Now we do get the lion’s share of funding (in Surrey), but if it’s too small to start with, then you’re really just spinning your wheels,” said Wilson.

There are other stumbling blocks, noted Clark, including getting all the stakeholders – school districts, landowners, and provincial and local governments – around the table to work together to build new schools.

“There are numerous parties around the table, all of whom have a legitimate set of interests to satisfy,” she said.

Wilson believes the problems are coming to a head and without some relief in stressed-out areas such as Clayton and Grandview, the district may need to look at implementing morning and afternoon school sessions or students may need to be bussed out of their catchment areas to schools with more room.

“I don’t recall a time in my 16 years on the board that the problem has been so acute,” he said. “There may come a time when a student can look across the street at a school and not be able to go to it because of overcrowding. That may be a new chapter – in fact that may be a new book, not just a new chapter.”

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