One of Battle Ground Public Schools’ alternative education options is poised to make a move, though the folding of CAM Academy’s high school program into another of the district’s schools isn’t planned, at least for now.
The BGPS Board of Directors voted 3-1 during its Aug. 12 meeting to approve moving all of CAM Academy, a third through 12th grade school, to the Maple Grove campus for the 2020-2021 school year. Though directors initially had a vote to incorporate the school’s ninth through 12th grades into River HomeLink in front of them, they approved “further exploration of the CAM High School program at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year,” according to board meeting information.
BGPS Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters said there is “considerable public opinion (and) feedback” with concerns, specifically about a loss of identity that the high school program would have if incorporated to another of the district’s schools. He said there were about 15 individuals providing public comment at the meeting, including a former board member and CAM Academy principal who spoke in support of what the school offered students.
“Until we could provide any level of certainty about what that program would look like, we would move in a manner that would continue that program for the time being,” Waters said.
He referred to former CAM principal Colleen O’Neal’s testimony. which he said cautioned of the complexities that bringing the school’s program into another, likely more difficult than keeping them separate.
Though both CAM Academy and River HomeLink are district alternative schools, demographics made any direct comparison difficult, Waters said.
“You’re talking about an entirely different type of student population,” Waters said, noting BGPS Superintendent Mark Ross’ recommendation to the board that indicated that CAM had lower numbers of students qualified for special education and categorized as low income compared to the district average. The school also requires students to pass a selection process to enroll while also looking at testing, academic records and recommendations for admittance.
Why move the school
Staying put at CAM Academy’s current location off of Onsdorff Boulevard isn’t feasible as past board motions have declined purchasing the building BGPS currently leases to house the school.
According to Ross’s recommendation, the board declined to purchase that property in May 2018, renewing the property lease in March 2019 for an additional year. The facility is currently leased for $42,770 a month, or $513,240 annually.
According to past reporting, the district began leasing space for the school in 1994. Waters mentioned that many students in 11th and 12th grades aren’t present on campus for much or all of their education, taking part in college-level Running Start courses.
Ross’s recommendation also noted that CAM Academy operated with a budget deficit. Waters believes it is the only school in the district to do so in large part due to the lease.
Waters noted that there were plans to move CAM Academy to property owned by the district as part of a roughly $225 million construction bond in 2018, though voters did not approve it during two separate votes that year.
“I do believe that it is time to rethink a program that has changed little in the past 26 years, and to make sure as a district that we are serving the needs of our students and tax-paying citizens by providing equitable and financially viable educational programs,” Ross wrote in his conclusion in the recommendation.
Though he didn’t have an exact cost for the move of the school, Waters said that generally a 10-plex modular building, like what would be installed at the Maple Grove campus to host the school, was in the $3 million range. That could be paid out using impact fees the district collects from new construction, funds that couldn’t be used to pay the current lease.
With a decision on what CAM Academy’s high school program will look like postponed until the end of the coming school year, Waters said in the meantime the district plans to listen to staff and families for feedback, though specifics on how they would do that wasn’t planned out yet.
Given the public support of CAM Academy and maintaining the program, the district appears willing to take a step back, for now, before coming up with a plan.
“It is important to reiterate the fact that we truly do value CAM,” Waters said.