Surrey coalition ‘united’ in effort to ease crowded classrooms

Surrey School Coalition lobbying provincial government for $175 million to help the city’s public schools keep up with residential growth

The Surrey School Coalition is lobbying the provincial government to release $175 million in taxpayer money to help the city's public schools keep up with residential growth and has asked city council to lend its voice to its cause.

The Surrey School Coalition is lobbying the provincial government to release $175 million in taxpayer money to help the city’s public schools keep up with residential growth, and has asked city council to lend its voice to its cause.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said she passed the coalition’s message on to Premier Christy Clark on Nov. 8.

“She said they were going to look at how they can help,” Hepner told the Now.

“Continuing the trend is not on.”

Hepner said Surrey’s civic government will lend its voice to the coalition “100 per cent” but will not actually join it.

“I join the voice, but not the coalition,” she said. “That is not what the city would do.”

Hepner said it’s “critically important” to make certain local children receive a good education and maintains there have been “too many portables in Surrey over too many decades.”

Members of the coalition, comprised of the Surrey District Parents Advisory Council, Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, Surrey Board of Trade and the Urban Development Institute, met with the mayor and city councillors on Nov. 7 to make their pitch.

Nathan Hildebrant, a representative of the Surrey School Coalition, told council it is seeking additional funding from the province for new schools in high-growth areas in Surrey and that its members have met with local Liberal and NDP MLAs, city staff and the Surrey school board.

Lisa Garner, Surrey district parent advisory council, noted the coalition isn’t calling on council to put the brakes on development, as it supports affordable housing.

“We are here united to advocate to the provincial government for funding of Surrey schools to alleviate the overcrowding crisis,” Garner told city council.

Decades of chronic underfunding is the “direct cause” of this crisis, she said.

Garner noted Surrey has 71,000 elementary and secondary school students, 275 portables, and its schools are 33 per cent over capacity.

“It was projected approximately 1,000 new students would enrol every year when in fact 1,500 entered the Surrey schools this year,” she said. “Taking these numbers into account, four years from now we will have 4,000 to 6,000 new students enrolled. This estimate leaves 1,300 to 2,900 students without a seat in Surrey schools.”

The delegates received a warm response from Surrey council.

Councillor Bruce Hayne noted the city is growing by 1,000 new residents each month, 5,000 babies are born in Surrey every year, “and we’re expecting another 300,000 people to make Surrey their home in the coming decade or so.

“With those kind of numbers,” he said, “we absolutely need everyone rowing in the same direction and providing the infrastructure we need.

“We can’t as a city do it all and so we need our senior levels of government to come to the table as funding partners and step up when the time is right,” Hayne said. “Let’s work together to achieve those goals.”

Councillor Vera LeFranc and other councillors commended the coalition’s work. “We are a community that really supports and and loves young families,” LeFranc said.

Said Hepner, “Advocating as a group makes it even more powerful…. I think having everyone work together is a powerful message.”

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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