Education center leaves Bayview, goes on hiatus

In May, the Whidbey Island Community Education Center celebrated its first anniversary.

One month later, the education center announced it was leaving Bayview School and had terminated all of its remaining classes, workshops, lectures and seminars.

Created over the course of several years as a place for people yearning to learn, the center’s executive director resigned last month. The center was facing a state of flux as well as funding concerns. Its lease with the South Whidbey School District was coming to a close in August, and the center’s board decided it was the right time to leave.

“There’s a practical side to our decision as well as a visionary side,” said Duncan Ferguson, the center’s board chairman.

Instead of housing the bulk of its offerings, which range from multiple-day classes to hour-long seminars, in one location, Ferguson said he and his fellow board members liked the original incarnation of the center as a roving program. In the future, the Whidbey Island Community Education Center may have a class in Oak Harbor, a seminar in Coupeville and a lecture in Clinton, all on the same day.

For now, the education center is closed. Its space in the historic Bayview School, which was subleased to an art instructor, the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and Whidbey Geodome, will remain open for an art show until the lease expires in August. Ferguson said the four organizations invested about $18,000 in the building on walls, electrical work and other upkeep costs. The other tenants were left to sort out the rent with the school district, and the neighbors lamented the loss of the center’s presence.

“I know we’re going to miss having them there, and their classes were a great addition to the corner,” said Sandy Whiting, executive director of the Goosefoot Community Fund which owns the Cash Store across Bayview Road.

“We are definitely going to feel it. I’m just hoping that someone will be able to come back in and do something similar,” she added.

The education center is an  unaccredited education organization. Unlike Skagit Valley College, which offers a wide range of classes that accrue credits based on the hours spent in class, Whidbey Island Community Education Center had no certificates or degrees to hand out at the end. There was only the knowledge that its students, of whom there were less than a thousand, walked away with.

Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Center, said the loss of bringing together more experienced and knowledgeable workers with younger people is a detriment to the county.

“There is a real-world application type of knowledge that the older generation brings beyond the theoretical you get in college,” Nelson said.

The education center’s board of 11 directors will tackle how to raise funds with its recently awarded non-profit status, its leadership and staff, and where to hold its programs at a meeting in August. One of the issues they’ll have to tackle is getting money upfront to pay for a director or someone to run the daily operations—answering questions, finding teachers, writing grants, scheduling locations. Ferguson said the board must research grant funding because class fees and tuition will not cover a salary.

Partnerships could be a solution for the center. Ferguson said he has begun looking into working with other continuing education organizations like a program through the University of Washington or Everett Community College.


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