The school year started this week and Surrey schools were expected to have more than 71,000 students coming through the doors.
There has been a lot of discussion about portables as the new school year approached, with Education Minister Rob Fleming repeating the election vow by Premier John Horgan to work to get rid of portables in Surrey by the time of the next scheduled provincial election, in 2021.
Fleming finessed that pledge in a recent interview. He told Black Press Media that “we’re looking to turn the corner and, by 2021, which was our four-year commitment, and start eliminating portables aggressively in Surrey.”
The reality is – as his comments suggest – it will be all but impossible to completely eliminate portable classrooms.
There are still many areas of Surrey to be developed – West Clayton, East Grandview Heights, Port Kells, Anniedale and smaller areas in South Surrey, Newton and Tynehead. There will also be considerable redevelopment of land to much higher densities, as it is all but impossible for most younger families to even think of owning a detached home.
Board of education vice-chair Terry Allen said trustees would like to be able to start the building process on population projections, rather than wait for the students to actually be in place. That approach to funding new schools is a longstanding provincial government policy. The policy has been adhered to, quite strictly, by successive Social Credit, NDP and BC Liberal governments.
As Allen points out, Surrey will be one of the fastest-growing areas in the Lower Mainland for the foreseeable future. The current policy actually costs taxpayers more, as land for new schools is often purchased at inflated prices, due to the area already being developed for urban uses.
Fleming seems to be at least thinking about a different approach. Of course, any plans along that line would have to pass muster with the treasury board, Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James. The current NDP government seems to be quite anxious to run surpluses, and avoid the political charge of being spendthrifts.
It is important to remember, as well, that portables have little to do with quality of education. Most are newer, well-equipped buildings and have most, if not all, the amenities of other classrooms.
Quality of education has much more to do with the teacher than the particular room.
Surrey School District does have a good case for getting building funds earlier. There will be a need for many more schools in the years to come. There are already sites that have been purchased for new schools, but there is no actual building activity on some. Hopefully, there will soon be many construction workers on those sites.
Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for the Now-Leader, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email firstname.lastname@example.org