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'We're a second thought': Surrey parents exhausted as more school programs, services being cut

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A budget crunch at the Surrey school district is going to mean service cuts in the 2024-25 school year.

Without additional funding in their operating grants to offset costs, the district said programs or services not funded by the province will be scrapped.

Buses for students in the intensive literacy program will also end, as will two out of 25 StrongStart programs. StrongStart is a free early education program for children five and under, especially supporting low-income families or those new to Canada.

"Lots of things that we hold dear, we are having to make those kinds of cuts that we’ve never had to do in the past," explained board trustee Terry Allen.

Allen said the upcoming budget is the most difficult one the district has had to pass in over a decade, with inflation, staffing shortages and Surrey's rising population all playing a role.

“Everybody understands inflation, I don’t understand why the ministry does not,” said Allen.

Anne Whitmore is the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) president. She and other parents are exhausted fighting for what, at times, feels like a lost cause.

“It’s not OK that unpaid parents, volunteers, and advocates are continually trying to go to meetings and understand the implications of a very large organization," Whitmore said.

Non-enrolling staff, including career facilitators and transition teachers, will be moving to the classroom and the district is putting a hiring freeze on office positions.

"It's just poaching – you take a little bit here and put it there, but it doesn’t actually fix anything. Inclusive education must be funded and that is not happening," said Jatinder Bir, the president of the Surrey Teachers Association.

Bir says she feels as though education and the dire situation in Surrey is not being taken seriously.

“We’re a second thought. The reality is if we want to have quality education, then we have to invest that money. In Surrey, we have been flagging it over and over again. This is where the growth is.”

With no new schools approved for Clayton and Cloverdale, portables are needed, but the district doesn’t have money in the operating budget to pay for them.

"We don’t have the space – 2,500 new students every year just puts more and more strain on the district," said Allen. 

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