The fact that Surrey isn’t even mentioned under future building expenditures in the Ministry of Education’s service plan is of “real concern,” says an a local group advocating for funding for new schools.
The worry was among many put forward by the Ad Hoc Committee on Capital Funding for Surrey Schools during a presentation this week to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.
Held at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Tuesday afternoon, the session was part of ongoing province-wide consultations based on the Ministry’s of Finance’s Budget 2012 Consultation Paper.
Linda Stromberg, presenter for the ad hoc capital funding committee, pointed to the fact that Surrey’s current population of more than 474,000 has resulted in public school enrolment topping 70,000 kids – a number projected to increase by about 1,000 students per year.
Nearly half of local schools are overcrowded by government standards and 25 per cent suffer from severe overcrowding, said Stromberg. She also said 10 per cent of Surrey’s kids attend classes in portables and that the cost to purchase, move, install and maintain the portables costs $4-5 million per year – money that comes out of programs and services for kids.
“Children who attend public school in Surrey get less than those who attend public school in any other school district in B.C.,” said the ad hoc group in its presentation.
Even if building were to start today, they added, it would take five years for new schools to be built and another 4,000-5,000 students will have arrived in Surrey.
“The existing process for capital funding may work for stable or declining districts but it does not work for growing districts like Surrey,” said Stromberg, referring to the province’s refusal to fund school districts based on projected enrolment growth and only provide dollars after kids have actually arrived.
For example, Adams Road Elementary was initially approved for 350 seats plus 80 kindergarten in 2005, was then scaled back by 100 seats in 2007, and then had four portables on site just six months after opening in 2011.
Stromberg urged the treasury board to provide “adequate” capital funding now, to review and revise the current service plan and review the capital funding process for education in B.C.
The Surrey School District also submitted a report to the all-party standing committee and addressed the capital funding issue as well.
However, the district also said the province’s service plan needs to focus on revising the School Act to recognize learning “that is not time nor location bound,” to acknowledge students are increasingly engaged in an array of educational experiences, including online. It was also suggested the government acknowledge the importance of technology in today’s classrooms and find a way to provide “technology-enhanced” learning reliably, at a reasonable cost.
In addition, the school district urged the province to review and reform class size and composition legislation so that learning is based on the needs of individuals rather than “constructing classes by use of a numerical standard.”
The district average of 19 for kindergarten classes, for example, requires additional classes be added that may be counter to a school’s needs, said the report. In 2010-11, Surrey had to add 10 kindergarten classrooms to meet the required average, “not in keeping with what we believed would be more advantageous to school organization or student learning, but were aimed at meeting the mathematical requirements.”
The district also said the classroom threshold of three students with individual education plans (IEPs) ignores the actual ability of the kids, and doesn’t acknowledge what other professionals might be in classes.
The deadline for submissions to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is tomorrow (Oct. 14). A report on the results will be released Nov. 15.