British Columbia

Nearly every school in Vancouver's core has a wait list for kindergarten

While Vancouver city council has spent the last 40 years prioritizing density in the city's core area, it's up to the separately elected school board and provincial government to manage the school system and approve funding for new buildings.

And nearly every school outside the core area doesn't — but a solution isn't coming anytime soon

Stacy Buckland and her five-year-old son Spencer Van Wyk are pictured with their dog Ruby in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Stacy Buckland and her husband moved to Vancouver last summer from Alberta with hopes of having their son Spencer enter kindergarten close to their Kitsilano apartment this September. 

Now, their plan of staying in the area and eventually buying an apartment of their own is up in the air, after Spencer was placed low on the wait list in the lottery for nearby General Gordon Elementary.

"We walk or bike everywhere and that's what we want for our family," she said. 

"Now we have to reconsider my career plan if I don't want to put a five-and-a-half-year-old on a school bus."

Much has been made of the kindergarten crunch at Crosstown Elementary and the lack of an elementary school in Olympic Village, creating stress for some parents entering kids in Vancouver's school system for the first time. 

But Vancouver's school imbalance is even more geographically pronounced than you might think. 

Two Vancouvers

If parents don't have a child already enrolled in a school and there's more demand in the catchment area than available kindergarten spaces, they have to go through a lottery, which took place in Vancouver this month. 

The Vancouver School Board provided CBC News with the 12 elementary schools that had to go to the lottery process; half of them were located north of 16th Avenue and between Macdonald and Main streets. And in that area, only one elementary school — that isn't an annex or French immersion school — had no wait list (Lord Roberts). 

Just six of 67 schools in the rest of Vancouver with the same criteria have a wait list for kindergarten. 

"We've added a lot of housing in the core areas," said Jens von Bergmann, a Vancouver resident who runs a data modelling and visualization company.

"But enrolment is dropping in other schools. And that's basically because the development is fairly focused on some geographic areas."

(Justin McElroy/CBC)

One government plans, the other funds

While Vancouver city council has spent the last 40 years prioritizing density in the city's core area, it's up to the separately elected school board and provincial government to manage the school system and approve funding for new buildings. 

"It's certainly frustrating," said Coun. Lisa Dominato. 

She's lobbied for approval of an elementary school in Olympic Village, and in October spearheaded a motion asking for city staff to expedite the necessary permits and explore the construction of a modular school if the government doesn't approve funding in a timely manner. 

"Absolutely planning between the [Vancouver School Board], the city and province is critical. However I am looking for short-term options, and that's what I was proposing as part of the motion," she said. 

"We need to get creative."

Coun. Lisa Dominato of Vancouver has lobbied the province to provide funding for a school in Olympic Village. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

No course correction soon

In the short-term though, the city's geographic discrepancy for kindergarten lotteries won't be going away. 

"We appreciate that with certain areas there are challenges with student numbers," said the Vancouver School Board in a statement.

They added that completion of the new Coal Harbour Elementary will alleviate some pressures, and that during last year's lottery, the number of kindergarten students on a wait list went down from 269 in February to 115 by September. 

As for the province, there's no money in its capital plan for any new schools in Vancouver, only for replacing existing ones. 

Education Minister Rob Fleming told local politicians last year that the province's priority in Vancouver was seismically upgrading current schools — while building new schools in other areas of the province with population growth.

This week, he said the onus is on the Vancouver School Board to submit a long-term facilities plan to the province.

"Vancouver is unique in the province ... what we're talking about is density in the city," he said, adding that the VSB only made an Olympic Village school their top priority six months ago.

Which means people like Buckland will have tough choices to make for some time to come. 

"I'm just feeling overwhelmed. I said to my son that he may have to go to a different school than most of his pre-school friends," she said.

"That's not what Vancouver is for our family. It's supposed to be walkable city."