Education Minister Rob Fleming says the NDP government will “do everything in its power” to get Surrey students out of portables and “into classrooms as quickly as possible.”
Fleming provided an emailed statement in response to PAN questions Monday, following a rally outside Earl Marriott Secondary on Saturday, in which both Surrey District Parent Advisory Council president Karen Tan and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner spoke of the urgency of overcapacity enrolment at Surrey schools.
Representatives of the Surrey Schools Coalition (SSC) told a crowd of at least 50 parents and children at the rally that the current provincial government needs to “write a cheque” for the $217 million, committed last January by its BC Liberal predecessors to build more schools in Surrey.
Tan pointed out at the rally that, to date, there has been only one approved project – $26 million for Clayton Village elementary, while Surrey is spending around $4.2 million on portables every year.
But Fleming told PAN that while he is committed to “making sure that the use of portables to address growth pressures is not a long-term solution… unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in the number of portables in Surrey this fall as a result of the BCTF agreement and growing enrolment.”
Fleming said his ministry has established a project office to manage the large volume of capital projects in Surrey.
“We are working with the Municipality of Surrey and the school district to speed up time-frames for new school construction…We all have a role to play in this. We are looking hard at how we can improve the approvals process to increase the pace of school construction from green light to groundbreaking.”
BC Liberal MLA Marvin Hunt (Surrey-Cloverdale), who attended the rally, rejected suggestions that the current shortage of schools reflected inaction by the former BC Liberal government – which held power for 16 years until July.
It’s an ongoing problem, he said, which can be traced back to the NDP government of the 1990s.
Fleming, however, told PAN his government is engaged in a process of making up for lost time.
“It’s clear that after 16 years of underinvesting in Surrey’s schools by the previous government that a lot more must be done,” he said. “We’ve started by building a stronger relationship with the city of Surrey and the school district.”
The Surrey Schools Coalition also comprises the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, the Surrey Board of Trade and the Urban Development Institute.