SURREY — More portables and hundreds of teachers are coming to Surrey as the district scrambles to make room for 168 new classrooms by September.
Finding the space will also mean the district is being forced to convert “non-educational spaces” like computer labs into classrooms.
The move comes after a Supreme Court Ruling in favour of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation that ruled to restore contract language and class-size and class-composition deleted in 2002. The decision found the B.C. government acted wrongly when it stripped such limits from teachers’ contracts.
School board chair Shawn Wilson confirmedthat the district will require 168 new “enrolling clasrooms” by the fall.
Where will those spaces come from in an already jam-packed district?
“We require 168 new learning spaces inside our schools that already are stretched so Surrey will be requesting about 30 additional portables as well as adjusting space…. We do not have enough room, we will require additional portables or school additions/modifications on top of our new schools.”
An “audit of space” has been done, as is done every year, but Wilson said “this year it has increased vigilance because of the implifications of the new Collective Agreement Language.”
“We are analyzing space, analyzing the new Memorandum of Agreement and the new Collective Agreement Language and we are working to implement,” said Wilson. “This will require many new portables, and some space in schools that currently is not used for a ‘class’ will likely need to be used. Example - two classrooms, side by side each have three teachers using it as a learning support room. We will enrol a class in one of the rooms and these six teachers will work together to support students in another room. We are only capturing space that we believe can easily be converted to a classroom. Another example, a portable dedicated for French as a Second Language support will become an enrolling classroom and that support will happen in the other class where the kids reside. The teacher will travel.”
Computer labs will likely be lost as well.
“In many cases, schools have space that we could convert to a classroom. For another example, we have been moving as a district away from computer labs. With funding for minor renovations, these labs (where appropriate) could be classrooms.”
But he said the goal is to “retain and enhance instructional programming and opportunities” and emphasized that in times of significant overcrowding “kids need outlets for energy and creativity” and “such flexible spaces are important and the fine arts, explanatories and applied skills are needed more than ever. We need to protect these spaces.”
The district is also “acting quickly” to get new portables ready for the fall.
“The new process has a separate capital request going to the Ministry to fund new portables,” he explained. “This is money above and beyond what we would need for capital projects. There is no requirement to pay for them from operating and implementation of the language also has a provision for ‘remedy’ if there is insufficient space.”
Currently, Surrey portables cost the district the equivalent of about 50 full-time teachers a year.
Teachers must also be added this fall, Wilson continues.
“We are adding about 200 enrolling teachers and over 100 non-enrolling teachers,” he said. “Three hundred teachers is the addition of a lot of support that we did not have. Smaller class sizes, increased non-enrolling support, that is what we are trying to accommodate.”
Wilson said he has faith the district can get the job done.
“Right now it’s difficult to be precise on what may occur and really, we won’t have a clear picture until September. There certainly will be difficulties in some schools, but most schools will be able to meet the requirements. In the big picture, the Memorandum agreement foresaw major problems in the event the BCTF won the Supreme Court ruling and both sides accepted that reality. They won, the language is restored and so we simply have to do the best we can.
“That’s why a remedy for non-compliance was structured,” he added. “Yes it is a more dramatic problem for Surrey as we are already experiencing growth in the district. Our staff are trying to deal with this issue on top of their regular duties and it it is an enormous amount of work. They are working collaboratively with the Surrey Teachers Assocation on all of the issues and making every possible attempt to accommodate the agreement. We have very reliable and capable staff working on this and I can tell you, we will get the job done.”
Cindy Dalglish, with Surrey Students Now (SSN), is outraged that this is the state of affairs in the district.
“Every time we turn around, there is another hit to our education system, especially here in Surrey,” she said.
A release from SSN asks, “Without a stage, where will students perform? Without a library, where will books be sourced, read and treasured? Without a computer room, where will the skills for the 21st Century be taught? Where will students requiring extra support get extra support?”
But Wilson assured libraries would be untouched, and most music spaces.
“To me that sounds alarming,” he said. “The reality is this, if there was a school that had say a music room but it was not being utilized, like maybe it was a periodic thing, not begin utilized as best as possible, then it may be used for teaching.”
However, he added, that would be “very rare and unusual.”
As for spaces such as sensory rooms, used as therapy for children with disabilities, he said there’s “not a chance” they will be touched.
Wilson gave another example of a space that may be converted to teaching.
“Let’s say we have a portable classroom used for french immersion. So the student would go to her portable for french language instruction. Now that will be impacted because what you could do, is the students in the school they have a teacher in a classroom and go to portable for french instruction. So what we would say is we need her portable for regular classroom instruction and therefore, when it’s time for french language instruction, she goes to the classroom.”
In essence the district will see “more travelling teachers” and Wilson said it’s “not the end of the world to have that happen.”
But Surrey Students Now isn’t satisfied.
“The Minister of Education repeatedly stated that the restored language is fully funded, with no caveats,” said a SSN release. “Given the new requirements, he should have clarified that is only true if school space is already built. We are concerned, and we need to shed a light on this immediately.”