SD43 loses funds to Port Moody school opposition

Board to reach out to Mayor Rob Vagramov, Ministry of Education to resolve the impasse on fees developers pay to purchase land for new schools

School District 43 trustees are losing patience with Port Moody council over plans for new schools and will be reaching out to Mayor Rob Vagramov and the Ministry of Education to resolve the impasse.

At least $750,000 or more has been lost in funds to pay for school land costs while PoMo has opposed the district’s Eligible School Site Acquisition Charge, according to SD43, and trustees say they are mystified as to why PoMo councillors are so opposed to supporting new schools.

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“This is an incredible loss for the district in terms of actual funds,” said Port Coquitlam Trustee Michael Thomas, who said PoMo councillors’ reasons for opposing school site acquisition charge rates are as “full of holes as Swiss cheese.”

The discussion took place at the Tuesday, Sept. 10 board of educaiton meeting and will likely be taken up with the Ministry of Education and, trustees decided, the board will reach out to Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov.

It was in a July meeting, Port Moody council turned down the fee hike.

Among the reasons cited by Moody councillors opposing hikes to fees developers pay to buy land for new schools in developing areas is SD43 already has a school in the city’s downtown area, concern about school closures — roundly rebutted by SD43 officials, who noted the district is on a building spree — lack of consultation, although the topic has been raised at two meetings with councillors, and predictions families won’t be moving to the waterfront development at Flavelle.

“What if we said we don’t want any future schools in Port Moody?” board chair Barb Hobson, a Coquitlam trustee, suggested.

But trustees were told that PoMo could still oppose the Eligible School Site Proposal, which includes six new schools for Coquitlam, as well as one new elementary school for PoMo.

This is the second year Port Moody has opposed a plan that would allow SD43 to increase fees developers pay from $654 to $1,000 for low-density units and from $392 to $600 for high-density units — the highest charges allowed under provincial rules.

The city of Coquitlam has approved the fee hike while PoCo, Anmore and Belcarra have stayed silent — which amounts to approval. But with Port Moody opposed to the increase, the new charges can’t go ahead.

Already the district anticipates a $750,000 loss for this past year and double that for two years, making it tougher to to save money for land for future schools, and raising the possibility that SD43 will to cover the costs from its own operating budget, trustees were told.

If the province doesn’t cover the shortfall, the money “comes out of the classroom,’ said secretary treasurer Chris Nicolls.

PoMo’s opposition comes as the the province is reviewing the school site acquisition land charge and the BC School Trustees Association has come out with a report calling for developers to pay a greater share of the proportion of land costs and servicing. 

But for trustees, Port Moody’s opposition to a new school for their city, given plans to densify, is troubling. It was noted that the city anticipates a 50% increase in population, according to a statement made recently by then-acting mayor Hunter Madsen at the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce Mayors' Barbecue.

“Where are all those kids going to go to school?” PoCo’s Thomas asked. 

Kerri Palmer Isaak, the trustee for Anmore and Belcarra, said PoMo’s reluctance is putting other schools at risk, and she’s not happy with the apparent veto the city has over the district’s ability to plan for future schools.

“I am concerned they are negatively impacting the rest of the district,” she said.

Trustees voted to send a letter to the Ministry of Education expressing their concerns about the delay to fee hikes and board chair Hobson will reach out to PoMo's mayor for a meeting to discuss the issue. A provincial mediator is also looking into the matter, according to the district.

If agreeable to the new school charges, PoMo would need to rescind its current vote and vote anew on the proposal, trustees were told.

Nicolls also stated the district has no plans to close schools, and is in fact in a growth phase, saying, “We have to purchase portables because we don’t have enough classrooms."

As for plans to purchase land for new schools, Nicolls said the district has to predict decades out what its need will be and uses city data to ascertain the need for new facilities.

Thomas said he’s surprised Port Moody doesn’t want to make plans for new schools, given the problems on Coquitlam's Burke Mountain when families started arriving before schools were built.

“Here we seem to have the opposite situation, where we have the municipality actively against building new schools in the city," he said.

Nicolls said it’s important that districts work with municipalities on ways to incorporate land for new schools in long-range planning, such as through the official community plan process.

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