SIMPSON: Surrey students deserve more than just ‘less worse’ when it comes to portables

Hey BC Liberals, Surrey doesn't need another finger in the dike - it needs a proactive solution to ease pressure on its overflowing schools

The number of students in Surrey's portables

If you were following two of Surrey’s Liberal MLAs on Monday, you might have been under the impression that Surrey’s school crunch has been solved – thanks to them, of course.

Surrey MLAs Stephanie Cadieux and Amrik Virk were rounding up media Monday in front of Adams Road Elementary school to tout the completion of three elementary school expansion projects.

And of course, the province didn’t forget to “announce” the construction of a new secondary school in Clayton. (If you haven’t grown tired of these “announcements” about this new school, just wait – I’m sure there will be about 12 more before it opens its doors to students.)

Look, I’m not one for disparaging good news. Sixteen new classrooms at Adams Road, Morgan, and Rosemary Heights elementary schools are most welcome to students, teachers and parents in their respective communities. And the new Salish Secondary school? It’s great news, especially considering it is expected to be state-of-the-art and will hold 1,500 students.

So, go ahead. Hold a press conference if you must.

But let’s remember a few things here. When Adams Road Elementary opened in January 2011, there were 262 students, 28 students shy of its capacity of 290.

Today, just five years later, there are 555 students enrolled – and even after the new addition, there are still 50 to 60 children in two portables.

And did you know the number of students in our portables (nearly 7,000), makes up the 24th largest school district among the province’s 60 districts?

It doesn’t seem to me that expansions like this solve the problem. They just seem like one more finger in the dike.

Plus, lest the Liberals forget, townhouse developments are popping up all over the area. So, where will we be five years from now? Can we expect another press conference in 2021, announcing yet another expansion? How many more fingers can we fit in the dike?

Remember, Surrey started the school year with about 275 portables. These expansion projects only reduced the need for about 15 portables. That means, being generous, we still have at least 250 portables in use today.

If the B.C. Liberals were really interested in fixing this problem, they would do so much more.

Rather than give the district just enough cash for Band-Aid solutions, the province needs to be proactive in how it funds our schools. They must change the school funding formula, which has left our city horrifically behind.

Even Premier Christy Clark admitted the formula doesn’t work. At a press conference last May, Clark acknowledged schools in Surrey are being built “after the fact” instead of when children actually arrive at the door.

SEE ALSO: Surrey’s school-funding formula could change, Premier Christy Clark says

Right now, districts can’t even apply for new schools until students are already inside the building. And it often takes three to five years from an announcement to the time the school is ready to open.

In June, Mayor Linda Hepner said that for the very first time, the city is working with the school board in developing a school-funding policy proposal that Surrey will present to the province.

We’re still waiting for that proposal but I somehow doubt it will change anything. (Besides, if the city really wants to help, it might want to start by listening to residents who are pleading with it to stop development in their communities that are already bursting at the seams.)

OUR VIEW: Surrey’s overflowing schools cannot keep taking back seat to developers

On that note, the province should also start working with city hall to be in the loop about its plans for growth, specifically townhouse developments in dense communities.

So, B.C. Liberals, instead of constantly patting yourselves on the back for making the problem less worse, you need to develop a proactive solution.

When that happens, make sure you alert the media. Because that would be an announcement worthy of a press conference.

Beau Simpson is editor of the Now. You can email him at beau.simpson@thenownewspaper.com.

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