Surrey’s Education Level Approaching Critical

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Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary has a parking lot full of portables. Photo: Ray Hudson

Explosive population growth vastly exceeds resources

Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary has a parking lot full of portables. Photo: Ray Hudson
Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary has a parking lot full of portables. Photo: Ray Hudson

by Ray Hudson

Laurae McNally, the longest serving board member, and former Chair of the Board of Surrey School District #36, recently reacted to the serious school infrastructure shortfall currently facing the Grandview/South Surrey, Clayton and South Newton areas. She brought a motion before her board asking the City of Surrey to slow real estate development in those areas until an appropriate level of school facilities are provided. It was passed unanimously.
Here is the motion, paraphrased: because of the explosive population growth in the Clayton, Grandview/South Surrey, and South Newton regions, of Surrey, without adequate capital infrastructure from the provincial government, the Board directed the Chairperson to communicate to the Mayor and city council of Surrey, that they temporarily suspend development approvals in those three areas until the school district receives adequate provincial funding to support the many new students.
Ray Hudson Spoke with Laurae McNally and asked her to describe the problem leading to the request of the city.

McNally: Ever since I got involved in this district, in the seventies, we’ve been growing, and portable classrooms have been a fact of life. They will always be in a school district like ours, but we’re in a situation now where it’s really out of control.
In the late eighties we got behind because the growth was phenomenal. Then, in the early nineties, there was a change in government. They provided $123 million for capital funding. Remember that was twenty-four years ago and $123 million was a huge amount in those days. Even the year after that we received $41 million. So we were able to catch up a bit.

Hudson: So now there’s a funding problem once again, and you’re saying there doesn’t seem to be any other way than to suspend development in certain areas of the city?

McNally: I’m not anti-development and I’m not saying stop all development forever, but in these three areas, we can’t accommodate the children. We need some help. Surrey Memorial Hospital has five-thousand births a year. That’s 20% of all the births in the province. Peace Arch Hospital has another thousand. We can’t control that. In my thirty plus years as a School Trustee, this is the very, very worst I have ever seen it. We’ve got four secondary schools on extended day, one of them for five years now. The Parents and students have been incredibly patient, far more so than I would have ever been.

Hudson: Has there been a response to the letter to the Mayor?

McNally: All I know is what Mayor Linda Hepner has said in the media, that stalling development is not a realistic solution. Officially, nothing formal yet.
The province holds the purse strings and with the time they take for processes and procedures, we don’t have that kind of time. We need to catch up right now and even when we get approval the red tape is unbelievable. It took us eight years to get the new Sunnyside Elementary to the point where the kids could walk through the door. I go crazy when I hear the government talk about cutting red tape when the first place they should look is the process of approval of schools.
Katzie Elementary is fairly new school in the Clayton area. We have not yet had the official opening, and this year they’ve had six and a half kindergarten classes. In the south, the brand new Sunnyside Elementary School will have six kindergarten classes this September, never mind the grade ones to the grade sevens.
I see more high schools will have to go on extended day, and heaven forbid we may need that for elementary schools.
It’s the high schools where I can’t understand the government’s reasoning. At Lord Tweedsmuir, there are twenty-two hundred kids crammed in the school. There’s one shop. The government talks about wanting people to go into the trades while many of the kids who want to go do that can’t get the necessary electives. You can put the school on extended day, but the shops, the bathrooms and the library are built for a certain number of kids, not to mention the wear and tear.
We spend $4 million per year from our operating budget to pay for portables. The government doesn’t give us a penny. That $4 million could provide 50 more teachers. We’re paying that because the province will not pony up the facilities. If you took all of the students that we have in portables and pretended they were a school district, they would be bigger than the other thirty-five school districts in this whole province.
And finally – this just gets me – we’re paying $1,000 per month to the Cloverdale Fair Grounds to rent their parking lot for Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, because most of the schools parking lot is full of portables. And that comes out of our operating budget too.