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City of Surrey should put a stop to the portables, says opposition group

The Surrey School District is experiencing growing pains that city council should be taking steps to fix, according to a rival political party.

Stephanie Ryan, president of the Surrey Civic Coalition (SCC), which has one member on council and three on the Surrey Board of Education, released a statement last week about the abundant use of portable classrooms to compensate for overpopulated schools in one of B.C.’s largest school districts.

“The number of portable classrooms in the district is 257 and is forecast to climb to 316 by next year. In human terms, this means more than one child in eight is learning in a classroom that wasn’t designed for education,” she writes.

“Each costs approximately $100,000. And to make matters worse, they are funded out of the district’s operating budget which is intended to pay for resources in the classroom, meaning classroom education is cut back even further to make up for the lack of schools.”

But a district representative takes issue with Ryan’s numbers, saying there are 257 portables but only 232 of them are used as classrooms, and the rest are for administrative or adult education purposes. In addition, though the purchasing and set up costs of each portable is in the neighbourhood of $100,000, the money for classroom portables does not typically come out of the district’s operations budget.

“Earlier this year we did pay about $2 million for 20 portables out of the operating budget. But the minister gave us a one-time grant to cover that,” Doug Strachan, district communications manager of the Board, told the Tyee.

“For portables exclusively needed for growth, the ministry appears to have said with it’s grant that rather than come out of operating budget, they would assist us with that from capital.”

Strachan added that the Board is unsure how many portables will be required for next year as enrolment predictions will change in January-February, and the ministry has announced funding for additions to be built onto six schools in the district to support full-day kindergarten.

But Ryan counters that there has been no capital funding for new schools in the district since 2005. Indeed, Strachan says construction on new schools approved before then is almost completed.

Ryan blames the overcrowded schools on underfunding by the ministry, but she is calling on the city council to take steps similar to that of former Mayor Bob Bose, currently the SSC representative on council. During his tenure as mayor from 1987 to 1996, Bose put a stop on issuing new building permits in residential areas until the provincial government committed to funding and planning for new schools in those neighbourhoods.

The Tyee contacted Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, but she declined to comment.

Katie Hyslop reports on education issues for The Tyee.

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