A parent signs a petition in 2011 calling for a new school to alleviate overcrowding at EMS. The move followed word of a flex schedule that has now been in place for four years

District seeks timeline for Grandview high school

A new South Surrey high school is at least three years away, even if funding is announced tomorrow, district officials say.

When it comes to where the long-awaited Grandview high school sits on the Ministry of Education’s new-schools priority list, the answer is a bit of a mystery.

That’s because there is no such list, district superintendent Jordan Tinney said Thursday.

“How can we understand where we are on the priority list if (there is) no priority list?” Tinney said in a discussion with district staff and elected officials, and editorial teams from Peace Arch News and Surrey Leader.

The issue was raised during conversation on capital funding in the district, and efforts underway to convince the provincial government that Surrey’s unique position of growth deserves a degree of recognition when it comes to such funding.

“Show us another school district that’s got secondary schools with kids running two shifts,” Tinney said, referring to flex schedules that were implemented at Earl Marriott and Lord Tweedsmuir secondaries four years ago in order to accommodate student overcapacity.

“Nobody else is doing that… We are the only district that is in growth. Give us a correction for urban growth. There needs to be something that acknowledges we’re unique.”

Tinney noted there is also a need on the district’s part to better-share its capital-projects situation with the public, noting that calls come in “all the time” asking about the new high school planned for Grandview, to take pressure off EMS.

But when funding will come remains a mystery to the district.

Ministry officials said by email that projects “must be… prioritized against other high-priority projects from across all 60 school districts.”

“It should be noted that individual project requests are ranked against each other regardless of the school district requesting the project,” added spokesman Matt Silver.

Silver described Surrey as “one of the few school districts which has had enrollment growth in the past 10 years,” and noted the province has invested more than $335 million in it since 2001.

“We continue to work with the school district to create more spaces for students.”

School board chair Shawn Wilson described the wait for capital funding to address critical needs, such as that at EMS, as “outrageous.”

He said the district is “working gung-ho” on the Grandview site, but “even if they give us the money tomorrow, it’s another three years (before the school would be ready).”

“You’re never really catching up. It’s just a moving target that’s always behind.”

Purchase of land for the new secondary school was approved by the provincial government in 2011, and the site was acquired the following summer. At that time, ministry officials ranked construction of the facility fourth in priority, behind the new Clayton North Secondary school and additions at Adams Road and Rosemary Heights elementaries, and school district officials estimated it would open in 2016.

Now, if funding were announced tomorrow, students currently in Grade 8 would be “very fortunate” if it were ready in time for their graduation, Wilson said.

Tinney said district officials met with Treasury Board staff about three times in the past year in an effort to press their point, and convinced them to come see for themselves exactly what Surrey is dealing with.

After a day touring the district last week, “they said it was really helpful to see it,” Tinney said.

It remains to be seen if the visit will have any impact on Surrey’s current capital allotment, which currently means more than 6,000 students are learning in portable classrooms.

District secretary treasurer Wayne Noye noted that the number of portables in the district climbed to 274 by this month; an increase of 110 since August 2003.

To put it in perspective, 274 portables equate to seven, 500-capacity elementary schools, Noye said.

Wilson noted the district is “100 per cent” covered for its operating budget for fall. This time last year, officials were struggling with a $8.5-million shortfall and how to make “across the board” cuts that would have the least impact in the classroom.

“Last year’s troublesome cuts have already been absorbed,” he said.

A key factor in that is the savings realized during last year’s teachers strike, which delayed the start of the 2014-15 school year by three weeks.