B.C. Conservatives pledge to eliminate Surrey portables by increasing class sizes

b.c. conservatives pledge to eliminate surrey portables by increasing class sizes

Portables are seen awaiting use at Walnut Road Elementary School in Surrey, B.C. on Wed. Oct. 4, 2023.

The B.C. Conservative Party says if it is elected in October, it will eliminate portables in Surrey by increasing class sizes.

Leader John Rustad unveiled the policy on Monday, saying the current situation, with students learning in close to 400 portables in the school district, “sucks.”

“It’s not a great environment for kids, it’s not a great environment for living,” he said.

“If you had to do it on a short-term basis because you have construction it’s sort of understandable, but to see that is becoming the new normal for the community is just wrong.”

Video: Overcrowding at Surrey elementary school forces kids to learn in gym and staff room

Rustad said a Conservative government would maintain existing student-teacher ratios while moving students indoors.

It’s a promise Surrey teachers call “impossible” and “out of touch.”

“I actually laughed when I heard that,” Surrey Teachers’ Association vice-president Lizanne Foster told Global News.

Foster said many classrooms, particularly in North Surrey, are already overcrowded, and she said the district and the province have both struggled to recruit more teachers.

“Unless and until you improve the salary and the working conditions of teachers, you are not going to have teachers rushing to the door,” she said.

“So unless he’s got an idea to dramatically increase the salaries of starting teachers … then sure, we would have lots of teachers,” she said.

Beyond the recruitment challenge, Foster said decades of research have shown that smaller class sizes improve learning outcomes for students.

She added that classrooms are now more complex than ever, with students with undesignated learning disabilities and second-language speakers, meaning teachers are already struggling to teach them the basics.

Video: Surrey school day extension leaves parents puzzled for next school year

Provincewide, there is currently a cap of 22 students per class for Grades 1-3, with a limit of 30 for grades 4-12.

Premier David Eby said the province has added close to 10,000 new spaces in Surrey, but acknowledged that number had failed to keep up with record population growth.

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The province, he said, has funded $4.2 billion to build and expand schools in the province.

“Interestingly and importantly is Mr. Rustad, who stood up in response to the budget and opposed that spending,” he said.

“Now I don’t understand how you get rid of portables if you are not spending the money to build schools.”

Surrey city councillor Linda Annis called the proposal a “band-aid” solution, arguing the province and district need to look at innovative solutions to speed up school construction.

Annis suggested building multi-storey schools, building schools in the podium level of new towers planned for Surrey, along with pre-approved designs and public-private partnerships to build.

“We don’t need architectural masterpieces for our students, we need good, strong schools. Come up with a template and build that school over and over again. It saves a lot of time and effort,” she said.

“We need to be looking really seriously at P3 partnerships, they are turning those schools around really quickly.”

Rustad said his larger class-size proposal wasn’t a “long-term solution” to Surrey’s woes, pledging that a Conservative government would use better planning to speed up school construction.

British Columbians are set to go to the polls for the next provincial election on Oct. 19, 2024.

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