The expansion of Royal Bay Secondary and purchasing land to build more schools will be the Sooke School District’s top priority when it meets with Education Minister Rob Fleming in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to be describing the growth pressures we’re feeling now as a school district as evidenced through the great number of portables we have acquired, and how we turn that into land purchases and schools in an expedited manner,” said superintendent Jim Cambridge.
The Sooke School District is one of the dozens of the fastest growing districts from across the province that Fleming will be meeting to discuss how to address school overcrowding.
Most of what Flemming has heard from mayors and superintendents so far are about speeding up permitting and awarding bids more quickly — something he’s hopeful the government can achieve.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that schools can be built six, 12, 18 months more quickly,” said Fleming, adding the current government “inherited a mess” that was passed down from B.C. Liberal government.
“We want to be building schools. We don’t want kids spending their entire learning careers in ‘temporary’ portables and experiencing the stress of overcrowded schools.”
Locally, SD62 is one of the fastest growing school districts in the region, with higher than anticipated enrolment numbers for the 2017/18 school year.
The problem is being exacerbated by the recent Supreme Court decision that restores clauses that were previously deleted from the teachers contract by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government in 2002. Those clauses deal with class size, the number of special needs students who can be in a class and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.
To address the need, 19 portables were added over the summer, with three more on the way, likely to be placed at Royal Bay and another elementary school. But more is necessary to get the roughly 1,375 students in portables into classrooms, including the construction of a new middle school and four new elementary schools, said Cambridge.
“Our middle schools are quite over crowded at the moment, so we would like to have a plan going forward so that we can see a new school in three or four years,” he said, adding the expansion of Royal Bay is also a top priority of the district’s.
Cambridge said the district has a couple of pieces of land it put purchase offers on, but was unable to say where the land was exactly. It is also looking at two sites as potential “super sites,” to accommodate both a middle and elementary school on the property.
“We’re looking forward to the conversation [with the education minister],” said Cambridge, adding it normally takes between three and five years between application and opening the doors of the new school. “We’re optimistic going forward.”