School overcrowding sparks Surrey, B.C., action
7,300 Surrey students in portables this year
Surrey, B.C., is starting another school year with many more students than it can handle, forcing parents and local officials to formally pressure the province to fix the problem.
The Surrey school district is one of the few in the province that is still growing, by about 1,000 students a year.
The result is hundreds of portables encroaching on playgrounds.
Fraser Heights Secondary school, as one instance, has 16 portables on its grounds as it tries to squeeze 1,500 students into a school intended to accommodate 1,000.
There are 254 portables this year in Surrey, 22 more than last year.
And while the funds for building schools comes from the province, the $110,000 cost of each portable comes out of the school district’s budget.
Lord Tweedsmuir and one other high school have had to go to extended hours to serve all the students.
"This puts strains on things like gyms [and] washroom facilities," said concerned parent Linda Stromberg.
Lobby group formed
The chronic overcrowding problem has pushed several community members, including the mayor and the board of trade to form a lobby group.
Stromberg, who has a daughter who goes to Tweedmuir, is part of the new group.
"We think we can make a difference," Stromberg said. "We expect more from our system."
The district would like the province to provide the money for new schools and let the district make the decisions on where to build them and how large they should be.
"They know we need money," said school board chair Laura McNally. "They have [known] for a while, but there seems to be this action paralysis."
The provincial government promises that funding will be coming, but not precisely when.
"I do look forward, as we move into the fall, to be able to announce some investments that will assist," said B.C. Education Minister George Abbott.
The district notes that even if the government immediately announced funding for new schools to house the 7,300 students currently in portables, there could be another 4,000 to 5,000 new students by the time those schools were built.
With files from the CBC's Susana da Silva