Facing a continuous backlog of school spaces, city and school board officials decided last week they will devise their own school construction plan, rather than wait for the province to do it.
It’s an unprecedented move that steps in front of the province in outlining the pace of school building required in the city.
The City of Surrey and Board of Education met on Thursday morning (May 26) to discuss the chronic shortage of school spaces.
It was a meeting that has been in the making for several weeks.
On April 21, Surrey trustees voted unanimously in favour of a motion asking the City of Surrey to “temporarily suspend all new development approvals in the Clayton, Grandview/South Surrey and Newton regions until the Surrey School District receives adequate provincial funding to support the growing numbers of students moving into these regions.”
Two weeks later, angry residents packed an information meeting about a proposed large residential project in south Newton, insisting the city halt development until schools are made available.
On May 20, the province announced $100 million in funding for 2,700 new school spaces in the coming years, but critics say it is too little, too late.
Concerned parents and frustrated trustees have long argued the province needs a new formula for the creation of school spaces, something that takes into consideration Surrey’s booming population.
Currently, students are counted for funding when they show up for class each new school year in September.
But it takes up to six years to build a new school – from approval of funding to completed construction – and by the time schools are ready in Surrey, they come already equipped with portables, because the structure is no longer large enough to accommodate the city’s breakneck growth.
An estimated 1,000 new residents, many of them children, settle in Surrey each month.
Mayor Linda Hepner told The Leader the city will no longer sit idly in the face of school construction delays. The current process is ineffective, she said.
“The formula is broken. All the members (at Thursday’s meeting) said that,” Hepner said on her way from the meeting with the Surrey Board of Education. “We’re going to develop (a formula) ourselves and present it to the minister.”
Hepner said ideally, she’d like someone from the ministry of education at the table as the new plan is being developed.
Minister of Education Mike Bernier told The Leader Thursday he’s amenable to sitting down with the city and school board to develop a plan.
“I’ll reach out to them too, to find out exactly what they’re looking for,” Bernier said. “Usually that planning is done at the local level and the presentation is made to the ministry for advice and input – depending on what level they’re trying to go at. It might mean a change in practice, which would mean we would get involved earlier.”
Hepner said the city wants to have a plan ready for the province in the next few weeks.
That will happen with or without the province at the table, she said.
“We can’t afford to wait,” Hepner said.