(Black Press file photo)

Surrey Board of Trade calls for funding formula change to tackle portable problem

Surrey opened the school year with 347 portables, which is 14 more than last year

While the province reviews its school funding formula, the Surrey Board of Trade is calling to scrap the “archaic” model that currently exists in an effort to reduce the number of portables in this city.

Surrey opened the school year with 347 this year, which is 14 more than last.

“Hundreds of K-12 students in Surrey will yet again be learning in portables for the 2018-2019 school season and the foreseeable future,” said SBOT CEO Anita Huberman in a release.

The business group notes that many secondary and primary schools utilize portables as temporary classrooms for overflow students, and note the lack of classroom space available for children in Surrey.

“We need to find a better way to fund and support high growth school districts,” Huberman added.

The Surrey Board of Trade says it has been trying to instigate change over many years to remove portables and increase space available for the growing Surrey student population.

The Independent Task Force on Funding K-12 Education in B.C. is currently underway that will review, among other things, how much funding is needed for Surrey schools.

The panel will review the current funding model — how government distributes more than $5.65 billion in operating funding to 60 boards of education throughout B.C.

The business group says this is a “step in the right direction to ensure our children are given the best chance to perform.”

The current system was established in 2002 and according to Surrey Board of Trade “needs to be updated to reflect changes underway within B.C.’s education system to better support student success.”

It’s hoped a new model will be developed by government with implementation planned for the 2019-20 school year.

“The Surrey Board of Trade also looks forward to how a new funding model will better support vulnerable students, including children in care, children with special needs and Indigenous students,” Huberman added.

In an interview with Black Press Media on Aug. 24, Education Minister Rob Fleming said a projection-based funding model could be in Surrey’s future.

“Surrey has never had 2,500 fully funded spaces in a 10-month period, ever,” said Fleming, referencing recent dollars committed to Surrey’s school system. “Our government is not interested in photo ops, we’re interested in real funding decisions that have been made by Treasury Board and our new government to finally get a handle on the backlog that we inherited from the previous government.”

Fleming noted portable use went up by 50 per cent under the previous Liberal government, “and we’re looking to turn the corner and by 2021, which was our four-year commitment, and start eliminating portables aggressively in Surrey.”

“The previous government didn’t fund nearly enough site acquisitions, and it’s very expensive to do that retroactively in built-out developments, but that’s what we’re having to do,” said Fleming. “Following that, we’ll be looking at funding future enrolment projections, because growth has been a known challenge in Surrey. It’s been steady, and almost each and every year exactly what it was predicted to be.”

Fleming said the NDP government has also changed the way it allocates capital “so for schools that are overcrowded with far too many portables, we now have a component of our capital budget that’s solely designed to fund additions and the elimination of portables.”

Surrey has the largest school district in B.C.

In all, the district estimates it will see 850 new students to Surrey and White Rock schools this fall, bringing total enrolment to more than 73,300.

Even with a new high school in Clayton Heights opening this September, and a 200-seat addition to Woodward Hill Elementary completed, the number of portable classrooms has not declined, but has in fact increased.

See more: Surrey school district’s portable count rises to 347: Allen

Surrey Board of Education vice-chair Terry Allen told the Now-Leader in August that the district now has 347 portables, which includes 14 new ones that have arrived for the beginning of the school year.

“We’ve moved 30 to accommodate the kids,” he noted,” and the 14 we’ve bought is probably not going to be enough, we’re probably going to have to get more.”

“I started to think that as much as the new provincial government has OK’d new schools and everything, unless they change the system we’re never going to get ahead of this,” Allen added. “We can’t put in for schools until we actually do the head counts. The kids are already there. It’s absolutely ridiculous. We’ll always be moving portables, purchasing portables, we’re chasing our own tail.”

Allen, too, called for the provincial government to allow Surrey to build schools on projections. Without that change, he said, “we’re never going to stop this madness.”

“It’s the most frustrating thing I’ve ever encountered,” he elaborated. “When you can only apply for new schools when the children are already there, how can you ever get ahead? The reality is that Surrey is one of the most affordable places to live in the Lower Mainland, and one of the most rapid growing places. So I can understand on one hand you don’t want to build schools you’ll never open in the rural areas. But in Surrey it just continues to grow and grow and grow. People were really concerned we were going to have to have portables at the new Salish (Secondary School, which opens in September), but we’re not. That’s one good thing. But that doesn’t mean we won’t put portables there the year after it opens. Unless the system changes, we’re never going to get ahead of it.”

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