Surrey trustees had a “promising” meeting with Minister of Education Rob Fleming to talk portables on Tuesday (April 17), days after the board revealed it was facing a whopping $8.5-million portable bill this year.
The district says the $8.5-million – up from about $4 million in previous years – 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.
According to a school district release, the meeting with Fleming and his senior ministry staff was to “discuss the review of the education funding formula and the ongoing need for school construction in the district” and “the pressures of explosive growth in the district and the desire to significantly reduce the need to educate students in portable classrooms.”
Board of Education Chair Laurie Larsen and Vice-Chair Terry Allen travelled by float plane to Victoria for the Tuesday’s meeting.
Larsen described the meeting as “purposeful and productive” and said “significant advances” were made.
“We are very pleased with what the future will hold for Surrey,” Larsen told the Now-Leader Wednesday. “We don’t say anything until the cheques are in our hand, but it was very promising… I think it really helped the relationship between the ministry and the district to talk face-to-face.”
Half of the discussion, she said, centred around funding formula changes that may materialize after a provincial review concludes.
Surrey trustees have expressed concern a change could reduce the amount of money they receive from the province, but Larsen said she left Tuesday’s meeting “feeling a little bit more confident that Surrey will continue to be funded the way it has been.”
The other half of the meeting was to do with capital funding and portables, she said.
Asked if that part of the discussion focused on new school funding or whether the province would help foot the massive portable bill this year, Larsen said “it was both.”
“We have some projects on hold and ready to go, and those are the ones we said, ‘We’re ready to go and just need the final word,’” she said. “We’re optimistic, but cautious. We really need to have the cash in our hand.”
Larsen noted the bill for portables is “huge,” and relief would be welcomed, but added “more importantly than that is getting projects started, with shovels in the ground.”
Larsen added she is “very hopeful” there will be some announcements for Surrey in the near future.
“We need some good news.”
Right now, there are several projects that are waiting in the queue until a provincial funding commitment is made, Larsen noted.
The district’s School Construction Progress website lists several projects awaiting approval, including Riverdale Elementary, Mountainview Montessori and Port Kells Elementary replacements.