Skip to content

SD43 needs more classroom space. Three StrongStarts may close

A petition launched last week to preserve the StrongStart programs in School District 43. The board of education will receive public feedback on its 2024–25 draft budget tonight, April 16, 2024.
bbc-creative-1w20Cysy1cg-unsplash Classroom Kids
Coquitlam school district (SD43) trustees are considering dropping some StrongStart positions to save $120,000.

A petition with more than 1,000 names is gaining steam to stop School District 43 (SD43) from closing or moving StrongStart sites in the Tri-Cities.

The petition calls for the early learning drop-in program to fully continue and not be cut, as planned in the draft 2024–25 budget that will come before the board of education tonight, April 16, at its special meeting.

Trustees will consider a reduction of 1.5 FTE StrongStart positions, a savings of $120,000, with the program shuttered or moved due to space requirements in September 2024.

“The district has been experiencing unprecedented student growth and, as a result, we have many schools that previously housed StrongStart centres that simply no longer have the capacity to accommodate programs other than K–12 classrooms,” SD43 secretary–treasurer/CFO Randy Manhas told the Tri-City News today, April 16.

With no cost to participating families, the StrongStart program is funded by B.C.’s Ministry of Education and Child Care at $32,000 for each site to cover the cost of a facilitator and supplies.

But the provincial StrongStart grants haven’t increased in the past 16 years to keep pace with negotiated wage hikes in the collective agreement or inflation, Manhas said.

As a result, SD43 plans to shell out $80,000 from its operating account in the next academic year to keep the 10 remaining StrongStart centres operational.

Here are the proposed changes in next year’s budget:

  • Hazel Trembath StrongStart Centre
    • closed because of the school fire
  • Central Community School StrongStart Centre
    • closed due to significant space needs at the school
  • Meadowbrook Elementary StrongStart Centre
    • closed due to significant space needs at the school
  • Rochester Elementary StrongStart Centre
    • moved to Mundy Road Elementary due to significant space needs at Rochester, keeps a StrongStart presence in the geographical region
  • Roy Stibbs Elementary StrongStart Centre
    • moved to Kilmer Elementary due to significant future space needs at Roy Stibbs, provides a presence in southern Port Coquitlam that was deemed a priority

Parent reaction

Trish Petrovich, whose one-year-old daughter attends the morning StrongStart centre at Coquitlam River Elementary, said she relies on the free program to educate her child, and other local parents enjoy it to socialize and gain access to resources and referrals for their families.

She suggested SD43 move the StrongStart programs to unused portable spaces.

“It’s really confusing how the school district has presented this,” Petrovich told the Tri-City News after forwarding the petition link. "It doesn't seem very well thought out."

Launched by Chantelle Peddey, the petition narrative also alerts readers to StrongStart cancellations in the Surrey School District next year and to sign that petition, too.

Petition comments about the proposed StrongStart closures and relocations in SD43 focused on the program’s benefits for young Tri-City families.

“StrongStart is so much more than a free drop-in class,” wrote mother-of-four Brandie Sanderson of Coquitlam.

“It’s a place of solitude for new moms and seasoned moms to meet and discuss vulnerable topics. It’s a place to make yourself and your children feel safe and loved. It’s a community.”

“I am a retired StrongStart educator and to lose this valuable program will be devastating to the community,” added Michelle Mckenzie of Maple Ridge. “This program has provided incredibly rich learning environments.”

“StrongStart is an essential part of our community,” wrote kindergarten teacher Kristin Almonodovar of Coquitlam. “Children need a place to learn and connect with others before starting school.”

Feedback on the draft 2024–25 SD43 budget will be heard at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16, at the Education Learning Centre (1080 Winslow Ave., Coquitlam). The meeting is live-streamed, but not recorded.