Langley Advance Times is offering this weekly feature, called “At Your Service.”
It’s another forum in which to put questions to our local politicians about key issues facing our community and its residents.
Using a basic question-and-answer format, elected officials will be asked one question at a time and given the opportunity to respond (to a maximum of 250 words) on that said issue.
Alternating between elected groups, Langley City and Langley Township councils, Langley school board, Langley MLAs, and Langley MPs each have a chance to participate.
The answers provided will be published in their entirety online Sundays.
Each school trustee was asked the same question: Given an increase in student numbers this year of approximately 900, what can the board do to speed up the creation of new schools?
Board chair Rod Ross
A. To put it into perspective, the 900 students was an increase throughout the entire district. Even some Brookswood area schools saw an increase… which is unusual.
What I am saying is it is not the Willoughby area only, that saw an increase.
What can we do?
1. Meet with MLAs…
Langley elected two new MLAs who sit in government and this is a good thing if you are in need of capital dollars to build new schools.
2. Build schools with three storeys. As we are looking at $3M or $4M an acre we must challenge the current paradigm. We cannot afford small schools.
3. Be openminded to new locations for schools.
Vancouver must look at new kinds of locations. As space is limited we must not limit our thinking.
4. Additional floors.
What existing schools are we able to build another floor on?
5. More portables.
This is not creative, but I am putting it in here as an obvious response. The district has to pay for all portables out of the existing budget. It would be great if the ministry would fund these, but they don’t at present.
7. Ask the crowd.
Crowd-sourcing ideas on how to solve these and other pressing problems. I applaud the district’s IDEAX event that asks students to provide innovative solutions to our very real problems.
Send me your ideas. Email: Rross@sd35.bc.ca
Trustee Shelley Coburn
A. It should come as no surprise that growth and adequate school space has been, and will continue to be, one of the most pressing issues facing the district.
Many in the public may not fully understand how new schools come about in the district. It is a complicated process, but at the end of the day the board has little say — ultimately it is the Ministry [of Education] who decides where, when, and how we will get our schools.
Overly simplified, we work with local governments to determine projections based on development, submit this information to the ministry, along with our capital plan with potential sites identified, and then we wait – knowing full well there is not enough money to go around.
The ministry then, somehow, chooses their priorities out of all the capital plan submissions in the province.
It is unclear to many how exactly this is determined, but what I will say — whatever they are doing is out-dated and out of touch with the needs of districts experiencing rapid growth.
It is not working. At least it isn’t for Langley.
The board will do what it has been doing— advocacy at the provincial level and working with both Langleys, keeping them aware of the capacity crisis coming our way. Pointing out that even if we have the available land the real issue is that the ministry funds schools for the numbers today, not tomorrow, not two years from now. It is reactive and not proactive.
Until this changes nothing else will.
Trustee Charlie Fox
A. New schools are priority for myself and my colleagues on the school board.
Firstly, we have a site ready for a school in northwest Latimer, but presently it is being held up by DFO issues. The design is complete and contractor selected and ready to go… but we wait!
Each year the staff prepares a five-year capital plan, which outlines the district’s priorities.
In the September board meeting, this was passed unanimously and in it we have asked for a new school each of the next five years to be built in the District.
Accompanying the submission of the capital plan was a letter from the trustees outlining the critical need to respond to the ‘actual’ (not estimated) growth we are experiencing in our district.
I must commend district staff for their continued diligence in communicating our new school builds and upgrade renovations with the ministry. The senior staff are constantly advocating for our needs and supporting that with documented proof.
We the trustees, are updated constantly on the progress that is being made in this area, and we continue to advocate strongly for support from our MLAs in getting the ministry and treasury board to supply the necessary funding to meet our needs.
As the district continues to grow, and new school builds lag behind, we will have to rely on portables to accommodate the growth in students, this is not an adequate long-term solution in my opinion.
Trustee Suzanne Perreault
A. The increase of 900 students, district wide, with a larger percentage in Willoughby, is unprecedented indeed and one could surmise largely it is due to the rapid growth of Langley – through development and/or the tide of changes this pandemic has created.
The past and present board has been active on its petitions for schools – prior to the release of our current data – as trends are observed. The current approaches engaged are motioned letters to the Ministry of Education detailing our needs, while addressing the conversation of the weakness of the current funding formula we submit to.
Our capacity for growth is also reflective in our capital plan, to which our senior staff are heavily involved.
The past board, leading into the current one, spent time advocating on the rightful need for more portables; however, being able to build large enough schools is where we our hearts reside.
Advocacy through our City and Township liaison committees is another avenue to which communication is flowing.
Accessing our two MLAs become another portal to which we point towards.
Going forward we are being challenged to be creative at looking at our solutions in our efforts of advocacy for our students. A place of wonder lies in area of schools that are in the queue for upgrades for earthquake readiness, can they be expanded during the upgrades?
Trustee David Tod
A. The board can continue to advocate for new school builds.
As I rhetorically asked at our last public board meeting, if Langley School District is experiencing record growth, then perhaps we can expect record announcements on the capital front?
Our senior staff continues to update the ministry about our five-year capital plan needs and we recently sent a letter emphasizing our predicament.
I have asked the premier, personally, to prioritize school builds especially in growing areas.
Our district has a proven record of building schools on time and on budget. We look forward to announcements this year.
Trustee Tony Ward
A. Even considering our 45 school sites, the creation of new schools in Langley is an ever present issue given our significant population growth in the last decade – specifically in the Willoughby area.
In addition to various capital projects, several new schools have been built in the last few years, as well as construction to ‘right-size’ current facilities for specific area enrolment needs.
We have a co-governance model in B.C.; school districts (boards of education) work with the provincial government regarding education.
The ministry (provincial government) has to approve the following:
1. The purchase of land for a school site
2. The business plan for the school build
3. The construction of the school
At the regular public meeting on Sept. 21, after the secretary-treasurer’s report on enrolment, the board unanimously carried the motion that “The board of education write the Ministry of Education to advocate for the needs of facilities in the Langley School District.”
This is the role of the board, to advocate for the district the needs of our students – and students need schools.
Clearly, unprecedented enrolment growth compels us to continue to strongly urge the ministry to fund school builds at an increasing rate and speed.
We all know that portables are not the answer; we need to work with the provincial government to ensure that we are projecting far enough ahead, so we can accurately anticipate, and prepare for, burgeoning enrolment numbers – so we don’t have to forever play ‘catch-up’ with the use of portables.
Trustee Marnie Wilson
A. The creation of new schools is a long process that is set by the Ministry of Education.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the process is ineffectual due to the fact that students need to be enrolled in the schools to show proof that the school is over-capacity, usually triggering the purchase of several portables before the plans for a new school can be put in motion.
This would then take several years to go from approval to completion.
As trustees we can advocate for change.
Next week, Langley MLAS are being asked: In light of the coroner’s report, what should the B.C. government do to prepare for the next extreme heat wave event, specifically to protect seniors and other vulnerable people?
Watch for their answers online Sunday.