South Newton Parents Take Their Case to the Legislature
On Wednesday the delegation of parents from the South Newton Community group, including parents from Woodward Hill Elementary School went to Victoria to seek a solution to the overcrowding and underfunding in Surrey schools
Reached shortly after their meeting with the Minister of Education, group leader Cindy Dalglish was in a buoyant mood.
“We’re exhausted but we did great,” a buoyant Dalglish declared. “I was able to meet with Mike Bernier (Education Minister) and I believe that there will be some sort of funding announcement when he comes to Surrey on Friday. He also mentioned something about working with the district on portables and the portable situation. Apparently the district is aware of what is going on now and that’s good news.”
The delegation of South Newton parents were accompanied by a developer whom Dalglish characterized as being sympathetic to the problem, but who wishes to remain anonymous at this point.
“So my take on today is that I’m cautiously optimistic”, she said. “I think they’ll announce something, but whether they’ll announce enough is a whole other thing.”
Following the meeting, the Education Minister met with the media and said that there were some projects underway that the Surrey School Board was aware of and would alleviate some of the stresses they have. He recognized that there are more investments needed and committed to come to Surrey “really soon” to look at some of the stresses, and work with the School District on some further announcements.
Earlier in the week, the South Newton Community group made an appearance before Surrey’s Mayor and Council. At the Monday night meeting, they spoke in support of the Surrey School Board’s resolution to ask the city to suspend further development in Clayton, South Newton and Grandview Heights, until adequate education infrastructure caught up with the area growth and alleviated the continued shortfalls of school resources.
Cindy Dalglish is one of the mothers under the South Newton Community banner, speaking out in support of suspending development until more education infrastructure is provided.
In the passionate discussion, there were a few tense moments when Mayor Hepner was charged as being uncaring for not agreeing that suspending development was the most effective action to take.
During the exchange the Mayor said that interfering with development was not the way to deal with the problem. She agreed “we aren’t getting there fast enough. Everybody around this table agrees we aren’t getting there quickly enough. We wrote a letter to the province last year, saying we’re not getting there fast enough. This year we’ve advanced that position again. And we’ve reached out directly to the minister with the same message.”
Dalglish: When you do that, they give you nothing, and yet you still go ahead and rubber stamp those developments.
Mayor: We can’t stop people coming to the city, and often times, developments don’t get built for four years.
Dalglish: But from the first conversation it’s 3 to 5 years to get schools built. So if you’re starting the process of development and the schools haven’t started you’re not congruent. One needs to be ready when the other is.
Mayor: I am 100% in agreement with you.
Cindy Dalglish also pointed out the reality of connectedness when she spoke about the issue of overcrowding and it’s impact on gang growth. Her feeling is that if the government didn’t spend so much money on Gang Task Forces, but instead injected that and even more money into education in the first place, kids wouldn’t be seeking connection elsewhere.
“When you build schools that house five hundred students instead of schools for fifteen hundred,” said Dalglish, “there is a much greater opportunity for kids to participate on the basket ball team, in field hockey, soccer or drama production, beyond their core education, in the smaller school. In the larger school there are fewer opportunities and more kids will fall through the cracks and seek connection outside of their families, community and most important, their safe zone. That’s how you end up with the gang situations.”
The developer speaks:
The council also heard Brad Hughes, the owner of Park Ridge Homes. He’s the developer of the project adjacent to Woodward Hill Elementary, one of the projects which would be affected if the motion from the School Board was adopted by the city council.
Speaking in defense of continuing the development project Hughes allowed that he understands the frustration and concern of the SNC but doesn’t agree that stalling the development would achieve anything of value.
“There is a need for schools,” said Hughes, “but the target shouldn’t be the developers. It’s a provincial issue, not a local development one. The ladies who spoke to council did speak to me. They’ve seen what we’ve done, they love the project that we did next door. They’re not opposed to the development or us, but they’re taking it out on us as if we’re the bad guy. We’re not. We’re a family-run business, trying to make a living and support our workers, which will be a problem if the project is delayed three to five months. We’ve been working on this for over two and a half years to get into our project stream to keep all of our employees working. If it’s delayed, where do I put my workers for that length of time, which impacts my worker’s children? So it’s more than just the schools.”
Hughes said the amount of revenue for jobs as well as property transfer taxes and other things generated by projects going ahead, creates a huge source of income back to the provincial government.
“It’s a political thing beyond my little project on the corner,” said Hughes. “Is the issue that there are no schools in the neighbourhood or that the schools are a little bit further away and no one wants to move outside of their small community to be able to attend school? All the schools in Surrey are quite crowded. I acknowledge that, I understand that. I’m not putting my head in the sand, and it’s a serious concern for my clients, also, stopping this development will not allow the elimination of safety hazards for the children walking to school, because of narrow roads, no sidewalks and ditches, all of which will be eliminated as the new development is implemented just south of Woodward Hill Elementary.
Education Minister, Mike Bernier, will be coming to Surrey on Friday to meet with the School Board. Earlier in the week, his office provided the following comment:
We are close to having new schools approved and we’re working closely with the district on a number of projects. We’re also looking at innovative ways Surrey can deal with the intense pressures from growth. Some ideas being discussed include larger high schools or even larger facilities housing two separate elementary schools.
As we move forward, Surrey and other districts experiencing growth are our top priority for future capital investments. There are several major projects underway and more slated to come – the new Clayton North Secondary and additions to three elementary schools are under way – projects worth $64.6 million. These projects will create 1,870 spaces for Surrey.
Since 2001, we’ve invested more than $337 million for 55 capital and seismic projects, and 12 site acquisitions in Surrey.
Last year we completed Goldstone Park and Katzie Elementary schools, and additions to Fraser Heights and Panorama Ridge Secondary. These projects, worth a total of $44.2 million, created 1,160 spaces for elementary and 500 secondary spaces in Surrey.