Another year of long kindergarten wait-lists in Vancouver schools

Simon Fraser Elementary has one of the largest kindergarten wait-lists because it's the catchment school for the Olympic Village area, despite the school being a 25-minute walk away.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Simon Fraser Elementary has one of the largest kindergarten wait-lists because it's the catchment school for the Olympic Village area, despite the school being a 25-minute walk away. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Another February is ending in Vancouver with hundreds of parents waiting for their first child to enter kindergarten — but being told they lost the lottery to get into the school within their catchment area.

The Vancouver School Board told CBC News that after notifying all parents who went through the application process, approximately 270 children are currently on wait-lists to get into 15 separate schools across the city.

That number is slightly down from the 283 children that were on a waiting list at this time last year, but is within the range of 260-300 seen each year this decade.

The 15 schools is tied for a record-high during the time CBC News has analyzed the issue, and once again includes all catchment areas in the city north of Broadway and between Arbutus and Main Street.

The schools with a wait-list are Emily Carr, Edith Cavell, Crosstown, Elsie Roy, False Creek, Simon Fraser, Henry Hudson, Jamieson, Maple Grove, Nelson, Norma Rose Point, Lord Roberts, Roberts Annex, J.W. Sexsmith and Sir William Van Horne.

Over the next six months, children placed on lists will either get into their school of choice as parents ahead of them change plans and open up spots, or they will end up going to schools further away from home.

Rite of passage

The process of being notified in February whether their child got into their school of choice has become a rite of passage for Vancouver parents.

Since it became a consistent topic at the start of this decade, the Vancouver School District and Ministry of Education have expressed their sympathies for the situation and pledged improvements, but there has been no reduction in the number of schools or children placed on lists.

"If you talk to any family in central Vancouver who has children leading up to kindergarten, this is a stress that is across the community," said Ashlie Corcoran, a single mom living in the Olympic Village area who will be entering the lottery next year.

The lack of progress is due to a combination of factors.

Seismic upgrades of current Vancouver schools have taken up much of the provincial government's capital funding for schools in the last decade. At the same time, providing the land and budget for new schools is a complex arrangement between three different elected bodies — school board, city council and province.

"I get the crunch and the stress on a budget. I get that there's different needs that the provincial government is having to take care of across our great province," said Corcoran.

"But I think it's been the lack of moving forward, but also the lack of information, that has been so frustrating."

What comes next?

The Vancouver School Board did not make an official or school board trustee available for an interview on the topic, but emphasized the size of wait-lists typically drops dramatically over time. Last year, the number was reduced by nearly half, to 150 students, between February and June.

"Additionally, a new school at Coal Harbour will relieve the enrolment pressures experienced in the downtown core. We have also requested funding to the ministry for a new school in Olympic Village and an expansion in the new seismically replaced Hudson Elementary," the district wrote in a statement — though not mentioning that after Coal Harbour opens, the Lord Roberts Annex with be closed for several year while it is replaced.

"It is important to know all students in the district will be placed in a school."

Meanwhile, the provincial government said it "recognizes the challenges that fast growing school districts throughout B.C. are facing," and mentioned it had invested $4 billion for more than 150 school capital projects across the province since 2017.

In 2020, the NDP government promised to "fast track" a school for Olympic Village, earmarked since 2007, if re-elected in that year's election.

Four budgets later, there are no shovels in the ground. However, Finance Minister Katrine Conroy all but admitted the government would soon commit to the project.

"They'll be happy to see an announcement in the next couple of weeks," she said to CBC News last week, when asked on budget day what she would say to parents.

Corcoran hopes it won't be too late for her child, and for her plans to continue living in the centre of B.C.'s largest city.

"I hope there's a plan and a timeline," she said.

"When the school is actually going to be built, if I don't see that … I'm definitely going to have to be looking for what my son's and my plan will be over the next couple years. And that probably means relocating."