Mom, minister weigh in on Surrey school overcrowding

Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in Surrey is so overcrowded students are hard pressed to find space to eat lunch most days according to one mom.

Forget about exams and studying, at one Surrey school finding a place to eat lunch is the biggest challenge

Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School in Surrey was built to accommodate 1,400 students but currently has 2,100 students enrolled. (www.surreyschools.ca)

Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in Surrey is so overcrowded students are hard pressed to find space to eat lunch according to the vice chair of the parent advisory committee.

"My son says it's difficult," said Linda Stromberg, "They're sitting on the floor in a hallway or in a stairway or where ever they can find a place."

150% capacity

Lord Tweedsmuir is one of many Surrey public schools stretched to the breaking point, currently operating at 150 per cent capacity, accommodating 2,100 students despite being built for only 1,400. New students hoping to get into Tweedsmuir are out of luck because enrolment for next year has already been closed.

"There are 46 students in the catchment that are currently on the wait list," said Stromberg. "They won't be allowed into Lord Tweedsmuir ... because we simply don't have the space.

Stromberg has spent years campaigning to bring more resources and better planning to the overcrowding issue. She's also involved in a petition asking for expedited school infrastructure in Surrey. 

'Very political'

"It's extremely frustrating," she said. "The politicians are very political, they're very careful with their wording," 

B.C Education Minister Mike Bernier could not explain why school planning in Surrey has failed to keep up with population growth, but did tell the CBC's The Early Edition that his ministry is working with the Surrey school district.

"We do recognize, obviously, that Surrey is the largest school district and also the fastest growing," he told The Early Edition. "There's no surprise to anybody who lives in that area that more development is taking place and more investment is needed from the provincial government when it comes to schools."

More than 270 portable classrooms are currently being used in Surrey to deal with school overcrowding. (Laila Yule)

The situation in Surrey is so dire that last week the Surrey Board of Education voted unanimously to ask city council to stop all development until school infrastructure can catch up with the existing needs.

On Tuesday Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner told CBC News that the provincial government needs to change the way it approaches new school development.

"What we're seeing is the need to update the current policy on how schools get the green light to be built," said Hepner. "Before any new school can be built it has to be overcrowded and it has to be consistently overcrowded."

But Bernier denied that overcrowding of existing schools is the policy measure used to determine whether a new school is needed. 

"There is no policy," he said. "What we do is that we work with the school districts who bring forward plans to us where they see the projected growth and they see the need."

Bernier says construction on a new secondary school and three new elementary schools will add 1,870 spaces for Surrey students.

Surrey public school enrolment is expected to grow by another 1,000 students next year.