Private school enrollment slides as local families look to reduce spending
The struggling economy has affected retail sales and the real estate market. But it is having an equally sobering effect on the education ecosystem of Southwest Washington.
Roger Miller, principal at Vancouver Christian Junior and Senior High reported their enrollment is down almost 25 percent over the last couple years, while Kendra Eimen, administrator for Vancouver Montessori School, said a “lot of people have pulled their children due to economic pressures.”
John and Jane Connell, who up until last year schooled their elementary-age children at Pacific Crest Academy, a private Catholic K-8 school in Camas, made the decision to transfer the two youngest (fourth and sixth graders) to the Camas public school district. Jane also went back to work three years ago.
“We have two kids in college now, and one going next year,” said Connell. “We needed to direct funds toward college.”
Connell said they preferred private schooling for the formative elementary years because of smaller class sizes and the emphasis on faith and values. He said the “outrageous” rising cost of college was “putting the pinch on our plans for grade school and high school.”
According to Ken Townsend, regional director for the Association of Christian Schools International, private schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington have experienced an average enrollment decline of about 5 to 10 percent.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however, Townsend reported that enrollment at one private school in Battle Ground has increased, and Tom Bradshaw, headmaster at Cedar Tree Classical Christian School said his school “has been blessed with a 7 percent enrollment increase over last year.”
Katrina Woermann, director of Lakeshore Montessori School, said she has created three- and four-day programs for strapped families. Tamar Parker, Pacific Crest’s principal, said they offer both 10- and 12-month payment plans, and have allowed some families to pay tuition upon receiving their tax return or company bonus. Miller said Vancouver Christian was considering offering online courses.
Bradshaw said they were considering “stepping up” their scholarship fund, due to an increase in families requesting financial assistance. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the percent of students on financial aid at member schools has climbed steadily: 19 percent in 2008/2009, 21.6 percent in 2009/2010, and 22.8 percent in 2010/2011.
Besides tuition, donations are an important source of income for private schools. Parker said they held an annual fundraiser along with an annual appeal, jog-a-thon, and golf tournament. Vancouver Christian recently sent a letter asking for donations from area businesses. But the NAIS reports that for member schools, the average annual giving per student declined 24 percent, from $1,703 in 2009/2010 to $1,280 in 2010/2011. Eimen said that she has noticed a similar decline in donations.
If some students are leaving private schools, where are they going? Some may be transferring to public schools. Mike Merlino, chief operating officer for Evergreen School District, said that Evergreen’s full-day, five days a week kindergarten enrollment has increased about 9 percent since 2008/2009.
“You may be able to infer,” said Merlino, that this increase is due to children “not going to private school for kindergarten.”
Jeff Snell, deputy superintendent at Camas School District, reported that their enrollment was up about 3 percent, and Brett Blechschmidt, fiscal officer for LaCenter School District, said the district was also experiencing an unexpected increase in enrollment. Neither administration had yet pinpointed an exact reason, although transfers from private schools as well as affordable housing were possibilities. Snell mentioned that several people had recently contacted the school doing relocation research.
Homeschooling is another option that financially strapped parents are considering. Dan and Sheila Monaghan pulled their four children from Pacific Crest last year. They used a combination of homeschooling, a co-op, and River Homelink classes.
Although a small promotion made it possible for the Monaghans to return their children to Pacific Crest this year, Dan said that supporting private schooling long-term for all four children would be difficult, and that they would continue to explore options “year by year” including more homeschooling and public school.
The best source of information for financial aid are administrators
at a particular private school. Check these websites, too:
Children’s Scholarship Fund.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
National Association of Independent Schools.
Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools.
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Pioneer-inspired Mill Creek Pub raises the bar in Battle Ground
When you walk into Mill Creek Pub, you're entering an environment inspired by the area's historical past. And, you can be certain that the 10-foot water wheel between the bar and the dining room has a story to tell.
“Someone suggested I pick up the book, Battle Ground …In and Around, which is a pictorial drama of northwest pioneer life,” explained pub owner Russell Brent. “I was inspired by the many mills and covered bridges that were in the area.”
Mill Creek Pub opened its doors in November 2011. The atmosphere feels inviting to adults and families with children. Brent's inspiration for the restaurant comes alive in the rustic décor, water wheel and covered bridge entrance that utilize reclaimed wood from around Clark County.
“I searched by bike for old barns in Clark County, acquired lumber from a Camas paper mill that's over 100 years old and salvaged 35-foot beams from a barn in Ridgefield,” Brent said.
Mill Creek Pub's menu is simple, but features plenty of surprises.
The bar offers several pleasing twists on signature cocktails such as a Maple Maker's Manhattan and a Lavender Cosmopolitan made with house-made simple syrup. For those interested in beer, a carefully curated selection includes some of the finest local microbrews on tap as well as bottled Rogue and Samuel Smith beers. There are also treasures like the limited batch Deschutes Abyss Russian Imperial Stout (say that 10 times fast) and the Widmer Bourbon 2010 Resurrection, aged one year in bourbon casks.
For starters, the Chilled Shrimp and Avocado Martini is a refreshing mix of shrimp and avocado in pico de gallo, served with crunchy house made tortilla chips.
The Lamb Shank entree is tender with light gravy on a bed of seasoned mashed potatoes and a side of buttery green beans. And, the Pub Burger is over-the-top with house made onion rings and peppered bacon inside the bun. It's paired with light and crunchy french fries.
For dessert, the Crème Brulee is sweet and tart, and finished before you realize what you've done. The Pecan Praline Brownie is decadent and the Berry Cobbler is a divine mixture of hot cobbler and cold vanilla ice cream, reminiscent of simpler times.
Brent said of the menu, “I chose food reflective of pioneer life – comfort food with heart, I like to say.”
It was also important that the food be locally sourced as much as possible. According to Brent, this has become much easier in the last three-to-four years as small farmers coordinate their efforts to supply local restaurants.
Gary Bock and Jim Mains take friendly competition to a whole new level
Meeting at Downtown Vancouver’s Java House for an interview a week before Christmas, both Gary Bock and Jim Mains are on the phone. When they finally end their respective calls, the two quickly begin bickering over who should have happier holidays.
“YOU have a delightful holiday.”
…And so on…
This is the team that brought Vancouver its most successful, and possibly its first, guerrilla fundraiser-slash-online-community-spectacle in the last half of 2011. The two created “Gary Bock vs. Jim Mains” almost accidentally, when they started a friendly competition over who could get more mentions in The Daily Insider, a local e-newsletter.
The two set up a Facebook page for their battle in mid-June, and announced plans to donate $50 to the Children’s Justice Center if they reached 150 “likes” on their page by July 1.
“We met our goal within a couple of days,” says Bock, and matching donations poured in. They ended up presenting a check for $750 to the Children’s Justice Center.
“We thought it would remain jokey,” explains Mains. “But it became more real once we realized people were actually supporting our lunacy.”
Shortly after that first success, Bock and Mains began planning their next event: a charity “wrestling” match in which supporters would “bet” with donations. Bock, executive director of Vancouver Watersheds Alliance, and Mains, president of the Board of Directors for the Vancouver Farmers Market, decided to support their organizations with the “Clash in the Couve.” To do so, they “wrestled” on a sweltering summer day in sweatshirts filled with balloons, entertaining a crowd of about 100. They raised $818.
After the wrestling match, the two decided to take a break from fundraising and started “Think-Vote,” a mock political campaign designed to, well, encourage people to think and vote.
“As social media comes about as a way to communicate, connect and raise funds,” says Mains, “someone needs to experiment with it.”
“I can’t afford to experiment with my own organization,” adds Bock, “but there’s no reason we can’t have fun as ourselves!”
So what’s next for Bock vs. Mains?
“Surprises,” says Mains, noncommittally.
“We make this stuff up as we go along,” says Bock.
Well guys, as soon as you figure out what you’re doing next, it sounds like Vancouver is ready to support it.