BURLINGTON — A beloved sixth grade tradition may be coming to an end in the Burlington-Edison School District.
Citing financial issues, the district announced it would not be sending students this year to Camp Orkila on Orcas Island.
“It’s not as though this wasn’t important to us,” Burlington-Edison School Board member Bill Wallace said at a Monday meeting. “It is. But, with a budget, sometimes there are things you can do and things you can’t.”
Like most districts throughout the state, the Burlington-Edison district is adapting to the new way the state has decided to fund basic education.
In an effort to comply with a state Supreme Court order mandating the state fully fund basic education, the Legislature in 2018 changed the way schools are funded, having them rely more on state funding than local taxpayer dollars.
Combined with additional expenses such as salary increases, that change has left many districts throughout the state struggling.
One of the areas the Burlington-Edison district looked at was its outdoor education offerings, including Camp Orkila and Mountain School, which hosts fifth graders at the North Cascades Institute at Diablo Lake.
Most school districts in Skagit County send their students to both camps, and in those districts funding is achieved through a combination of grants, district dollars and parent fees.
The exceptions are the Conway School District, which does not send students to Mountain School, and the Mount Vernon School District, which covers the cost for all of its fifth graders to attend Mountain School.
In an attempt to address both its bottom line and equity issues, the Burlington-Edison district decided this year to fully fund one of the camps.
“That’s something we’re pushing for throughout the district is to keep the cost for parents down,” School Board President Rich Wesen told the Skagit Valley Herald.
Although it is the more expensive camp — about $100,000, although the district offsets that cost through grants and discounts — the district chose to fund Mountain School for all of its fifth graders, board members said.
“The feedback from the staff was Mountain School best fit their (science) standards,” Wallace said.
Camp Orkila, Wesen told the Skagit Valley Herald, is about $60,000, not including grants and discounts.
To fund both, the district would need about another $30,000, he said.
Instead of putting the fundraising burden on parents, the board decided to cancel participation at the camp, a decision that has many parents, community members and alumni upset.
“We, the families, want equal opportunity for our sixth graders,” said parent Carmen Andrew, whose son is in sixth grade. “What about equality in the county? Why are we being discriminated against?”
A petition started Friday had garnered more than 900 signatures in support of not only sending students to Camp Orkila, but the opportunity to fund raise for the camp, something the district has not been open to.
“We want the opportunity to fund raise for our students,” Andrew said. “The support is there, we just want a fair opportunity.”
Several parents formed a “Camp Orkila Campaign” to show support for the camp.
“A lot of people who showed up to support Camp Orkila are the very same voters whose funds you say you are being mindful of,” said Sarah Bishop.
The camp is especially important because, without the district having a middle school, it is the only opportunity for sixth graders to bond with students from outside their own school.
On Monday, however, the board stated it would be open to funding alternatives as long they are sustainable and pay the way for all sixth graders.
“I do like that program and I’d like for us to figure out a way for it to stay,” Wesen said.
While the board has not reinstated the program, parents say the camp that is operated by the YMCA of Greater Seattle is holding a spot in March for the district’s students.