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Surrey Schools enrolment balloons to more than 83,000 students

iStock-1154716884-crowdedhallway.jpgSurrey Schools is now home to more than 83,000 students, according to a recent enrolment update at the March 13 Surrey Board of Education public meeting. (Image via iStock)

The district’s student population continues to exceed school capacities as more than 1,500 new students enrolled in Surrey and White Rock schools in the past five and a half months.

At the March 13 Surrey Board of Education public meeting, Deputy Supt. Andrew Holland provided an update on enrolment, noting that since the Sept. 30 enrolment tally, the district has grown by an additional 1,563 students, to a total of 83,401. This figure includes elementary and secondary schools, learning centres, adult education, the distributed learning program and education services programs.

The influx of more new students puts increased pressure on the district to manage enrolment at schools that are already overcrowded. Limited new funding for new schools and additions has exacerbated enrolment issues, leading to alternative solutions such as extended day schedules at five secondary schools and prefabricated additions at three elementary schools to accommodate swelling enrolment.

“We are always welcoming and accepting of all those students, happy to have them and give them a wonderful education,” said Trustee Bob Holmes. “But the pressure it brings our budget as it’s coming to bear more and more every year – I really am concerned for this coming budget of what that pressure’s going to do with the decisions we’ll have to make.”

Surrey Schools began the 2023-24 school year with 3,089 new students, a 3.9% increase and well above the traditional growth of about 800 students per year. Based on trends from last year, Holland said the district is on track to grow by another 2,200 to 2,500 students this September.

“This rapid growth is putting pressure on the Surrey School District,” said Holland, noting it has affected certain schools more than other. “This spring, we have more kindergarten registrations at Latimer Road Elementary than that school can accommodate, and as a result, the district is closing Latimer Road Elementary to in-catchment students where there is not space at a particular grade level, and redirecting these students to Hillcrest Elementary or Katzie Elementary.

“Hopefully there are not other schools this spring where we will have to redirect students, but when enrolment increases beyond our capacity, we have to look at other means to accommodate students’ educational needs.”

Holmes noted that the district has had to use funding from the operating budget to pay for portables and portions of some capital projects – funds that could otherwise be used for other important operating costs – and fellow Trustee Terry Allen echoed Holmes’ concerns of balancing enrolment without further capital investment.

“This is something that we never wished would ever happen, and because of the rapid growth, we have no choice,” said Trustee Terry Allen. “The budget at this point in time, because of the massive increase in enrolment and lack of space that the school district is encountering, puts those strains even greater on the board. People really need to understand the tipping point that the school district is getting to because of the rapid growth and the lack of new schools that are being provided to the students in Surrey.”

Board Chair Laurie Larsen warned that Latimer Road Elementary will likely not be the only school forced to turn away new in-catchment students, as the district grapples with the ongoing growing pains of accelerated enrolment. Bayridge Elementary and Grandview Heights Secondary are already closed to students living in-catchment, and she predicts that list may grow.

“I did an interview in December, we were talking about growth in Surrey, and I made the comment that there will come a day when we’ll have to say, ‘Our doors our closed,’” said Larsen. “It’s unfortunate, but unless we get more capital, this is going to be an ongoing issue for the district.”

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