(File photo)

‘Schools need to be built now,’ says Surrey parent group

Surrey Students Now calls on provincial government to change policy, fast-track school construction

The Surrey Students Now group says it has a simple but important message for the provincial government: “Schools need to be built now.”

The parent group, which was formed by educate advocate Cindy Dalglish, says it wants to meet with Minister of Education Rob Fleming to discuss the future of education in the city.

“We would like to get commitments and hear action plans,” Dalglish told the Now-Leader. “We hope a meeting with Minister Fleming would help spearhead a more collaborative process in building these action plans and commitments.”

Dalglish said she’d like the meeting to happen “as soon as possible” and described the situation in Surrey as “alarming.”

While the province’s interim budget identified the Surrey School District as a key priority area for new schools, the group wants several changes to policy to help speed up construction.

They want the education minister to look to other provinces that have built multiple schools in one to two years, and to “work collaboratively with the City of Surrey and Surrey School District to expedite land acquisition and construction.”

Furthermore, SSN urges the education ministry to change its policy on capital expenditures.

“The Surrey School District is past the point of demonstrating ‘proof of need.’ Seven thousand-plus students in portables is evidence enough,” states their release. “The Ministry of Education needs to rescind policy (2.3) that states ‘a district must adjust educational programming’ and create policy that protects the location and curricular approaches of existing programs, enshrines the individuality of learning, and simply recognizes a child needs a seat in a school building.”

The group also says the Project Contribution Policy is “unattainable” in Surrey, considering the sheer number of new schools needed.

“The District partially relies on the Site Acquisition Charges for land acquisition revenues, but these charges have not increased since the year 2000,” they note. “Land value has doubled since that time. The Site Acquisition Charge Policy needs to move to a percentage-based amount to stay current to fair market land value.”

Finally, the group takes issue with the fact that the district pays $4 million annually out of its operating budget for portables.

“The Ministry of Education needs to create a new policy stating non-temporary portables will be funded through means other than the operating budget. That $4 million is better utilized within the school building, as intended,” they say. “Policy change is required to encourage equality among programming and furthering the initiative for inclusiveness for children with special needs. The Supreme Court Ruling was only a starting point. It’s time to make inclusion a reality.”

The group also wants to see the province take a leadership role in communicating and planning done between the city, district and province.

“The unrelenting development without appropriate infrastructure has created chaos across our school system,” SSN states. “Surrey students deserve better.”

Ministry of Education Rob Fleming has responded to the concerns raised by SSN in an emailed statement.

“Education is a top priority for our government,” said Fleming. “We want to see the number of portables reduced as quickly as possible across the province.

“That said, this is not just about investment dollars. It’s also about finding ways to accelerate projects, improve capital approvals, and cut the wait times from green light to groundbreaking.”

“We will work collaboratively with the City of Surrey and the school district to find solutions to speed up new school construction – we all have a role to play in this.”

“I recently met with the Surrey School Board chair and the Mayor of Surrey with their staff to discuss a number of solutions to these issues.”

“We are all in agreement on the need to get schools built in Surrey as quickly as possible, and we have committed to continue to work together to find solutions to accelerate projects.”

See more about the parent group at surreystudentsnow.com/2017priorities.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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