(Black Press file photo)

(Black Press file photo)

UPDATE: Surrey school district looking at $8.5M bill for portables this year

Trustee says provincial funding won’t cover new costs district facing, including portables, education assistants and more

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the Ministry of Education

Surrey’s portable bill is set to double this year.

While the Surrey school district typically spends about $4 million a year to maintain existing portable classrooms, the total bill is jumping to $8.5 million this year, Surrey Board of Education vice-chair Terry Allen told the Now-Leader.

The district says the $8.5- million figure includes roughly $2.1 million to move 33 portables (at an estimated $65,000 each), $1.2 million for 11 new portables that are needed, and the remaining approximately $5 million is to be spent on maintenance.

Making matters worse is that there’s not enough new provincial funding to cover the portable increases, according to Allen, among a slew of other new costs including inflation on supplies and services; inflation on employee benefit costs; increased salary and benefits for non-unionized staff; increased demand for education assistant services for special needs students; and increased demand for school meal programs and other services for the most vulnerable students.

“We’re still on the hook for all the inflation, hydro increases… The increase in money isn’t covering all the costs,” Allen said.

OUR VIEW: Big portable promises enticed Surrey votes – so what’s the plan?

Plus, the district remains concerned about the impact of the new Employer Health Tax.

Allen said the only new funding announced is “simply a re-announcement of previous commitments” to fund increased costs of the teachers’ Memorandum of Understanding on class size composition, enrollment growth and unionized salary increases.

“We were hoping, and I think all district were hoping, for some relief for that. But that’s not going to happen, I don’t think. Maybe it will, you never know, but there’s been no relief at this point,” said Allen.

“There’s not much more money coming to districts anyway, but certainly, it won’t cover increased costs in portables.”

Allen said the district will be able to survive this year’s spike, due to a “funding balance” from previous years. According to a Feb. 14 report to the Surrey Board of Education, the “operating fund balance” will be drawn down to $15.1 million on June 30 to cover a $21-million shortfall in the 2017-18 budget.

“They call it a surplus, but we call it a funding balance. Without that, we would be having to make cuts – and deep cuts,” stressed Allen. “You can only absorb so much.”

See more: Surrey school board says it’s in good financial shape despite $21M shortfall

See also: Surrey must create 168 new classrooms, hire 300 teachers by September (April 28, 2017)

Spokesman Doug Strachan said the district received in the neighbourhood of $700 million in operating funding from the province last year. While this year’s operating funding figure has yet to be finalized, Strachan said Allen is correct and all the things he listed are “not being funded.”

The district received $10.77 million from the province in 2017 to purchase 38 of the 50 required portables, as well as relocating and refurbishing three more, and renovating 21 classrooms.

But this year, “we have to pay for (the portables) on our own as we have in the past,” said Strachan.

In an emailed statement to the Now-Leader, the Ministry of Education said a budget has been tabled that is the “largest” capital budget in the province to date.

“Operating grants for school districts in 2018/2019 are set to increase to almost $5.2 billion – up over $130 million from 2017/2018,” reads the statement. “Surrey is expected to receive an estimated increase of $22.4 million in operating funding next school year, bringing the total to $650 million for 2018/19. This is in addition to $37 million provided to the district through the classroom enhancement fund.”

According to the ministry, the Surrey school district will also see additional savings of $2.7 million in 2018/2019 through MSP reductions, network savings and reduced pension contributions.

“We are reviewing the district’s five-year capital plan and we are working closely with the Capital Project Office in Surrey to accelerate the pace of school construction from green light to ground breaking,” the statement notes. “This is a transitional year as districts work to implement the Memorandum of Agreement with the BCTF and there are some unique situations and challenges. One of those challenges has been an increase in the number of portables this fall as districts increase class spaces to comply with the MOA. We are committed to making sure the use of portables to address growth pressures is not a long-term solution.”

Surrey currently has about 325 portable classrooms.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
OUR VIEW: We expect integrity from leaders

Is it too much to ask that conflict related to the city’s business be met on the battleground of fact?

Hardeep Singh Sahota, the director of Royal Academy of Bhangra in Surrey, says there’s lots of confusion around the temporary closure of dance studios. He’s pictured in the empty studio, which shows spaced out dance areas, on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
‘Temporary’ closure causing confusion for Surrey dance studio

Bhangra academy director says studios need more guidance from healh authorities

Despite rumours, Surrey RCMP say they are not issuing tickets to people if they are driving in a vehicle with others from a different household. (File photo)
Rumours of vehicle-occupant address checks untrue, say Surrey RCMP

COVID-19 enforcement about education, says Cpl. Joanie Sidhu

FILE PHOTO - Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference about the provincial government approving the city’s municipal police transition plan Thursday (Aug. 22, 2019). He is joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. (File photo: Lauren Collins)
LETTER: Surrey’s budget is despicable

Reader says Safe Surrey is going to bankrupt residents

(Photo: Amy Reid)
VIDEO: 2020 Community Leader Awards recognize Surrey’s unsung heroes

They don’t often receive recognition and don’t necessarily have a high profile in the community

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld is taking heat over using a ableist slur to refer to three Black Press employees. (Paul Henderson/ Progress file)
BC School Trustees Association president keeps heat on Chilliwack Trustee Barry Neufeld

In a news release, Stephanie Higginson called on voters to take careful note of Neufeld’s behaviour

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

School District 27 announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 this week (Nov. 23) at Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Entire gym class at northern B.C. high school isolating after confirmed COVID case

Contact tracing by Interior Health led to the quarantine

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

Most Read