(Black Press file photo)

Education

‘Portable explosion’ continues in Surrey, with district predicting $10.7M bill

Surrey trustee Terry Allen says that money could instead be used to hire 100 teachers

Surrey’s school district is facing another huge cost increase for portables.

The bill is expected to jump to $10.7 million for the 2019-20 school year, according to the Surrey Board of Education.

That’s up from an estimated bill of $8.5 million for the 2018-19 school year, which is double the year prior.

“We’ve got to purchase somewhere up to 25 more portables, and there’s a number of portables moves, at $75,000 each for moving costs and placement,” Surrey trustee Terry Allen told the Now-Leader Thursday (Feb. 14), the morning after the Surrey Board of Education passed a motion asking the Ministry of Education to foot some of the bill.

The unanimously approved motion requests that the ministry “provide a special purpose grant to the district to help fund portables costs for the 2019/2020 year.”

Allen noted the district saw 1,200 new students this school year.

“It’s enrolment. Just simply enrolment,” he said. “And the fact the projects are not completed. That’s the problem.”

Twenty-five new portables would bring the school district’s total to 358, with an annual operating cost of $13,250 per portable.

See also: Surrey school district looking at $8.5M bill for portables this year (April 13, 2018)

See also: Surrey school district’s portable count rises to 333: Allen (Aug. 23, 2018)

Unless the Ministry of Education decides to help with the portable bill, it will come out of the district’s operating budget.

Allen said “to put it into simple figures,” that $10.5 million could instead be used to hire 100 teachers.

Asking for the province to help pay for portables is something the board does on “a regular basis,” said Allen, who is vice-chairperson of the board, and also chairs the district’s budget committee.

“But I think the pressure continues to mount,” he added, noting he’s “hopeful” the Ministry of Education will help with the portable bill.

“When you put the whole picture together, of what we provide – after school programs, drug counselling, anti-gang programs – you add them all up, it’s millions of dollars. $10 million would make a big difference. We’re saying there needs to be some recognition.”

Allen gave the provincial government credit for the new schools and additions being built across the city but said “the truth of the matter is, on the flip side, there’s this constant drain on the regular budget to provide portable space.”

“This isn’t to pay for anything fancy. You’re just talking about putting kids in classrooms. It’s insane,” Allen added.

But, he said there’s “no question” that since the NDP came into power in B.C. there’s been much more movement in getting projects approved, and shovels in the ground. Despite that, the “portable explosion just continues,” he lamented.

Meantime, the Surrey Board of Education is looking to amend its draft budget for 2018-2019 to “reflect actual enrolment as funded by the Ministry of Education as well as updated forecasts for other sources of revenues and revised projected expenditures for the year ended June 30, 2019.”

The district is going to have to dip into its “funding balance” to pay for a $2-million deficit.

Allen said a significant hit is the roughly $7.2 million the district is required to contribute to the capital projects underway.

He stressed the importance of this “funding balance.”

“They call it a surplus, but we call it a funding balance,” Allen explained. “Without that, we would be having to make cuts.”

“And, if we didn’t have increased enrolment, the deficit would be far greater,” he noted. “On one hand, enrolment growth is a challenge. In another regards, it’s a saving grace.”

Last fall, Surrey opened the new Salish Secondary, and a 200-seat addition to Woodward Hill Elementary. Several other projects are underway, but over-budget bids in 2018 caused five to be delayed.

See also: Over-budget bids cause delay of five Surrey school projects(Nov. 20, 2018)

“We went to tender, and the lowest tender was still higher than what the project agreement (with the ministry) called for, in the budget for the school,” said Doug Strachan, spokesperson for the Surrey School District, last November.

Those delayed projects included an Edgewood Drive area elementary (at 16666 23rd Ave.), a 300-seat addition to Pacific Heights Elementary (at 17148 26th Ave.), a new Grandview Heights Secondary (at 16987 25th Ave.), and a new Douglas area elementary school (17335 2nd Ave.).

Also delayed was a new school named Maddaugh Road Elementary to be located in Cloverdale at 19405 76th Ave.

Since November, construction has started on Maddaugh Road and Edgewood Drive elementary schools as well as the addition to Pacific Heights Elementary.

As of Feb. 13, the Grandview Heights Secondary project is currently in the “tender” phase, which is set to close in March. And, the new Douglas-area elementary remains in the “working drawings” phase and is expected to go to tender in March.

Several other capital projects are at various stages of construction in Surrey, including a 200-seat addition to Panorama Park Elementary, a 200-seat addition to Sullivan Elementary, and a seismic upgrade at Mary Jane Shannon Elementary.

Meanwhile, several other projects have Ministry of Education funding approval but are in the design phase, including a 655-seat Regent Road Elementary (18711 74th Ave.), a 150-seat addition to Frost Road Elementary, a 100-seat addition to Coyote Creek Elementary, and a 700-seat addition to Sullivan Heights Secondary.

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