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Surrey councillor calls for an end to portables, school district says it's not possible

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A Surrey city councillor is planning to bring forward a motion to host an education summit that includes the province and school district, where she wants to call for an end to portable classrooms in School District 36.

Linda Annis says Surrey should have a zero-tolerance policy for portables and is calling on more funding from the province.

“It’s not right that the kids in our city are on split shifts, some of them can’t even go to school in their own catchments, and are in portables. It’s not the way education should be delivered in Surrey," says Annis.

There are approximately 7,750 students learning in portables across the Surrey school district, and the board says it’s not possible to remove them entirely.

“If we were to be given $3.7 billion to bring our non-portable issue to the front, that still doesn’t account for programs and things that pop up, and for any addition or renovation you need portables,” says Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education.

The district is currently strapped for funds. The board has approved a $1.14 billion budget, but it’s still not able to keep up with the growing population.

Larsen says although it may seem like a lot of money, only seven per cent is being used to support students.

“Out of the entire budget we are given, only seven per cent can be put towards capital projects and the classroom. Most is spent on wages and salaries that come right off before we even get a chance to use that money. Out of that we have to pay for portables and it sort of dwindles down really fast,” she said.

Annis agrees the provincial government needs to put more money into Surrey and look at innovative solutions to build schools, but Larsen says it feels like another empty political promise.

"I don’t think it is a magic solution and certainly if an organized summit happened, we certainly would attend, but we have been lobbying nonstop on all these issues with the overcrowding in Surrey," says Larsen.

Larsen adds Surrey doesn’t have enough land or money for site acquisitions, so it’s not as simple as it may seem.

She says even before Annis’ call for a motion, the school district already had a meeting planned for the end of the month with the City of Surrey.

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