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New school funds good, not enough: McNally

Seven school districts welcomed good news about provincial funding for new capital projects today, easing the pressure on overcrowded schools. But although the news was welcome, it's not enough to put away portable classrooms for good.

Premier Christy Clark and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon made the announcement in Surrey this morning -- with a simultaneous announcement from Education Minister George Abbott in the Sooke School District -- of $353 million for renovations and new school buildings.

"There are school districts in our province that have experienced tremendous student enrolment growth in recent years, and are in need of funds to expand current schools or build new ones. That's why we are taking action today," said Clark in a government press release.

"This investment will also create more jobs, which is great news for B.C. families."

The Surrey School District will receive roughly one-third of the announced funding -- about $102 million -- for additions to two elementary and two secondary schools, and the construction of two new elementary and two new secondary schools.

One of the fastest growing districts in the province, about 3,000 new students move to Surrey each year, forcing the district to use portable classrooms to accommodate pupils.

Currently there are over 250 portables in use, and District Chair Laurae McNally says this round of funding won't stop their dependence on temporary classrooms.

"As long as we're growing, and we'll be growing for as long as we can predict, we'll have portables in this district. That's just a fact of life," she told The Tyee.

"When the ministry approves plans, they do it based on the children that are there today, not two years out. We would like a made-in Surrey solution because of the uniqueness of our growth, but we have to live within the rules that the provincial ministry of education has."

Nevertheless, McNally is pleased by today's announcement, saying it relieves pressure on the eight most overcrowded areas of the growing city.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of our parents and students who have been unbelievably patient," she says.

"It's just a great day in the neighbourhood, here, as Mister Rogers would say."

Other districts receiving new capital funding include Vancouver, Richmond, Langley, the Central Okanagan, and Conseil scolaire francophone.

The BC Teachers' Federation says the money is good news, and President Susan Lambert hopes government will bring the same kind of money to class size and composition.

"There's always money; it's a matter of spending priorities. And as I've said before, public education is probably the most critical public service of the government, and it aught to take precedence over any other commitments, in my view, that this government makes," says Lambert.

"Public education is the future of our society; that's where our kids are."

Katie Hyslop reports on education for The Tyee Solutions Society and other publications.

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