Silence over Surrey’s jam-packed schools is ‘deafening,’ trustee says

Another massive development looms in area where schools are already over capacity

Surrey schools are so crowded the district is using more than 200 portables going into the new school year. And there's no end in sight.

Surrey schools are so crowded the district is using more than 200 portables going into the new school year. And there's no end in sight.

CLAYTON — Laurae McNally says she is “gobsmacked” at news of yet another development application in Clayton, a community where schools are already bursting at the seams.

“There is a huge disconnect between Surrey city hall approving everything under the sun and the provincial government not approving anything,” said the Surrey school trustee. “That’s the reality. It’s wrong. It’s really wrong.”

If approved, the 16-acre project would see 14 properties turned into 131 single-family lots in the 18200- to 18400-block of 73rd Avenue.

A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12 at Surrey City Hall.

SEE ALSO: Surrey’s overflowing schools cannot keep taking back seat to developers

This is the largest land assembly to date in the area, according to a city report. A total of 136 students are projected if and when people move in.

In a letter to city council, the  school district notes enrolment in Clayton already exceeds capacity of the local schools. And it’s expected to “grow significantly” due to expansion of the east and west Clayton Neighbourhood Community Plans.

“The Clayton Elementary site cannot accommodate additional portables onsite so in September 2016 a large section of Clayton Elementary catchment is moving to Hazelgrove Elementary (which is also full),” the district wrote.

“In addition to the three existing schools, Clayton, Hazelgrove and Katzie, the district is projected to need multiple new elementary schools to serve the long-term residential build out and population growth in the Clayton area.”

As for the high schools in the area, they remain under “extreme enrolment pressure.”

Earlier this year, McNally put forth a motion during a school board meeting urging city hall to stop approving new developments in areas of rapid growth until schools catch up – specifically, South Newton and Grandview. Surrey council has since approved a controversial development in South Newton despite public opposition, a 287-unit project at 152nd Avenue and Panorama Drive.

SEE ALSO: Surrey school trustee’s call to curb growth ‘hit a chord’

“What will be really interesting to see is if they read our comments on this one (Clayton) proposal,” said McNally. “It will be interesting to see whether the school board has any sway with council at all. Right now, the silence is deafening.”

In May, Premier Christy Clark visited Surrey to announce funding for 2,700 student spaces. At the time, she said funding schools in a growing city like Surrey may not be working under the current funding model.

“I think we’re just going to have to find a new way of making sure that there are seats for when the kids arrive rather than some of the way we seem to be doing it now, which seems to be a little bit after the fact,” Clark told the Now.

Later, at a public hearing for a controversial South Newton development, Mayor Linda Hepner promised to come up with a “made-in-Surrey” funding model to propose to the province.

Hepner told the crowd that for the first time, the city is working with the school board to develop a school-funding policy proposal to hand to the province. Hepner said she intended to have the proposal done by the fall.

The plan is not yet complete, according to city hall. “The work is still ongoing, albeit at a slower pace due to the holidays,” said Jean Lamontagne, Surrey’s general manager of planning and development, adding it isn’t expected before October.

McNally doesn’t expect it anytime soon. “Don’t hold your breath waiting for that,” she said.

Meantime, NDP leader John Horgan made a visit to Surrey Tuesday to bash the current government’s handling of overcrowding troubles. He noted with 274 portables in Surrey, there are so many students in them they would make up the 24th largest district in B.C.

“I think we need half of those kids moved out of portables right away,” said Horgan. “But Christy Clark’s plan is offset by expected growth in Surrey schools over the next three years, leaving today’s 7,000 kids in portables right where they are.”

McNally said back in the early 90s the school district got $181 million of capital the minute the NDP got into power. But since then it’s been “dribs and drabs.”

But the real  “travesty,” she said, is the district spending $4.1 million a year out of the operating budget on portables – which translates to 50 teaching positions.

“The government can say, ‘Oh well, we’ll get around to building our new schools,’” said McNally.

“There isn’t an incentive for them to do it as long as they stick this school district with cost of paying for portables.”

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com