Camp Moran’s future in doubt

It’s a tradition for the Oak Harbor School District’s sixth-graders to spend a week at Camp Moran up on Orcas Island for an educational outdoor adventure.

While the excursion is a highlight for students, it is becoming costly for families and the school district.

So much so, that school officials considered eliminating the yearly trips altogether and looking for a local option instead of instituting a price hike that would have more than doubled the cost to families.

The Oak Harbor School Board didn’t go that far at its meeting Monday, but signaled that changes could be coming.

Rather than eliminating the excursion or doubling the fee, the board approved raising the fee from $100 to $125 and told administrators to start researching local alternatives for the students.

“I think the community values this,” board member Kathy Jones said. “I don’t support terminating Camp Moran.” Past inquiries into such a move have always stirred up a hornet’s nest of parental opposition.

Jones said research hasn’t been done yet to find an acceptable alternative camping experience on Whidbey Island.

District officials had considered raising the fees parents would pay to $250 beginning next spring, but the board was against that idea.

“There’s no way we should be charging $250 a student,” Jones said.

The costs of Camp Moran have increased in recent years due to changes in how the camp is operated.

Rather than having teachers conduct lessons and parent volunteers providing food as in past years, the school district has had to pay rangers to teach lessons and the camp for the food.

Even after the fees were collected, Camp Moran cost the school district approximately $52,000 this year and that amount could increase to $60,000 next year.

The idea of increasing fees or eliminating Camp Moran stems from work done by a budget reconciliation committee that formed to help resolve a shortfall in the school district’s 2007-2008 budget.

Assistant Superintendent David Peterson said the committee wanted Camp Moran to be cost neutral for the school district. Yet $250 would be an extravagant cost for a lot of families in the school district, Peterson acknowledged.

Even with the fee increase, Peterson said the camp would still be a losing proposition for the school district.

The district had to provide a school nurse this year to help meet the medical needs of students. The district also has to make sure special needs children can attend Camp Moran, adding even more to the costs.

School officials also said Camp Moran doesn’t fit in well with the district’s education standards aimed at the WASL testing.

Jones, who isn’t running for reelection this year, said such a system eliminates the likelihood of enrichment opportunities for kids. She also questioned whether a local camping option will provide a suitable replacement for Camp Moran.

“Camp Moran is an experience that won’t be easily reproduced in a local environment,” Jones said.

Board member Corey Johnson said he was surprised to see the elimination of Camp Moran as an action item on Monday’s agenda. The board had only requested information on what options are available.

He added that any discussion to eliminate the camp should come after advance notice so it doesn’t take anybody by surprise.

The school board unanimously approved raising the Camp Moran fee from $100 to $125. Board members Vicki Harring and David McCool were absent from the meeting.

Peterson said the board clearly wanted to see a complete proposal before making a decision. He said that proposal should be ready sometime in the winter or spring. He added it would be done in plenty of time to inform families about the change.

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