Coupeville School District chops away at Cedar program

Although it was hailed as a golden goose by district officials shortly after its inception, Coupeville’s Cedar Program has ceased to lay eggs for a few years now.

The Cedar Program is a district-supported K-12 alternative learning program that combines homeschooling with a few traditional classes and lessons from parent volunteers and guest instructors. But many changes are about to take place.

After a significant enrollment dip and a 15 percent cut in state funding, the program is slated to move out of its costly Camp Casey home and drop its high schoolers for the 2011-2012 school year.

Up until now, the funding of the Cedar Program was based on the same state formula that pays for other basic education programs, with the  school district receiving just over $5,000 for every full-time equivalent (FTE) student. However, this spring, the Legislature voted to cut funding for alternative learning FTE students by 10 to 20 percent depending on how much time the students spend with teachers.

Coupeville Superintendent of Schools Patty Page said the state estimated Coupeville would be cut by about 15 percent, which projects to a loss of about $116,000.

The program boasted about 70 FTE students a few years ago, but this year enrollment numbers were in the 40s, and Page said she expects they’ll continue to drop. The program wasn’t able to make its budget in 2010-2011, and Page only expects things to get worse.

“Losing $116,000 from Cedar when we weren’t able to make budget in the first place changes the whole process,” Page said.

Next year, Page said the district is budgeting for an enrollment of only 20 FTE students. She  fears there may not be funding for any contracted guest instructors. Additionally, new state requirements ask that all staff be highly qualified in the areas they teach, which is a stricter criteria than in previous years. Currently, the district does not have a highly qualified teacher on staff that can oversee all high school courses for the program. That restriction coupled with budget restraints led the district to cut grades ninth through 12th.

However, Page said the district is working to get a teacher highly qualified over the summer in the off-chance that a great number of students come knocking at the door next year.

If those grade levels are not restored, high schoolers may have to move to a program in the Oak Harbor or South Whidbey school district or look into online learning if they want to remain out of traditional classrooms.

“We’re budgeting very conservatively until we see how many students we’ll have throughout the district,” Page said. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to add some things back on.”

In another cost-saving measure, the district decided to move the program from its current location at the Camp Casey Conference Center to the annex located on the high school/middle school property. The district had been renting classroom space from Seattle Pacific University at Camp Casey for about $33,000 per year, and Page said the district could no longer afford the cost.

Page said the advantages to moving to the annex are numerous. Besides pocketing the rental costs, the Cedar students will have access to three classrooms including a science lab, home ec facility and shared access to the gym, libraries, art classrooms and food services. Additionally, Cedar students will be able to take advantage of the district’s transportation system.

On the other hand some parents and students said they chose Cedar specifically for its separate location and non-traditional feel and are upset about the move.

Cedar parent Meg Hilkey said she’s saddened to see all of the changes taking place at Cedar, especially because she has a high schooler.

“My daughter, who is adopted -- she is my granddaughter -- is devastated by this,” Hilkey said.

Parent Barbara Benway said she’s especially upset by the possible loss of guest instructors.

“After two years in the traditional system we moved to Cedar five years ago,” Benway said. “It has been a superb program for us.”

The children, now 10, 11 and 12, have flourished, Benway said. “While their learning styles are widely varied, the Cedar Program provided the support and guidance I needed to bring the children to their potential. I could not have asked for anything more. ... In the past two years, however, the program has been systematically damaged, in my opinion. It no longer meets our needs nor does it provide an avenue to our goals.”

Parent Ashlie Unruh said that despite the losses, she plans to keep her four children in attendance.

“We are most likely losing our guest teachers who have worked so hard and are very invested in our students,” Unruh said. “It’s definitely a blow, but I am very encouraged to see the parents coming together to create a diverse set of classes that will continue to bring the high-quality, hands-on experiences we enjoy so much.”

Oak Harbor’s alternative learning programs, Midway High School and HomeConnection, should not expect to see any drastic changes, according to Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon.


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