Surrey’s school board is calling out the city’s mayor and council over a vote it says will hold up the process of building new schools.
The dispute centres around the district’s annual School Sites Proposal. The document involves estimating upcoming student enrolment and identifying future school sites, and is necessary in order to get capital funding from the provincial government.
Council voted unanimously to reject the proposal, which means the province will need to appoint a facilitator to work with the district and the city to resolve the numbers.
“This is unprecedented not to be approved,” Surrey Board of Education Chair Laurie Larsen said.
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Larsen said council approval of the proposal is usually a formality, and that the document was drafted with data from the city itself.
She said enrolment projections before the pandemic were for about 800 new students per year. That’s grown to about 2,400 new students per year for the last two years, and an estimated 3,000 new students next year. Meanwhile, the district is home to nearly 400 portables.
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“It takes about five years before we get a school so it’s a long process, so any stalling at any of those points just puts in jeopardy that the schools can be built (sooner),” she said.
“This has set the board back for the 24/25 capital funding we need, and we need that as fast as possible.”
At a press conference Monday, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said the rejection was a result of the province passing its suite of new housing measures, bills 44, 46 and 47, which are expected to significantly boost density in the city.
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“It really is a question of timing — the school board’s budget came to us prior to the new legislation, and so now moving forward we are saying to the school board … we believe it will impact school registration moving forward, so we want them to re-look at that,” she said.
“We can’t pretend there isn’t going to be a significant impact on schools, when we know what’s happened in the past. We want to make sure we are ready for the future.”
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Locke rejected the idea the vote to reject the proposal was a part of council’s ongoing dispute with the province over the transition to the Surrey Police Service, calling any suggestion to that effect “inappropriate.”
Surrey Coun. Linda Annis, a supporter of the police transition, echoed that sentiment, saying she voted against the proposal because it fails to account for anticipated growth in the years to come.
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“Our children in Surrey are continually having to go to portables and each and every year the number of portables are increasing,” she said.
“We need to sit down and figure that formula out so that we can get rid of these portables and get the right number of new schools built each year, and right now that’s not happening.”
Larsen said there is no question that the province’s new housing measures will affect the number of new students enrolling in city schools.
But she said she doesn’t understand why the city couldn’t work with the district to re-work the proposal, rather than rejecting it outright.
“We’ve never had this kind of relationship with the mayor and council where we haven’t been able to sit down and talk things out and get things done, never ever have had to have a facilitator appointed,” she said.
“So this is new and something that has caused I think a bit of rough feelings between us now.”
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