What’s Next: Teacher-Run Summer Camps at Risk

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Have you or your kid attended All American Sports Camp, Patriot Girls Basketball Camp, Orange Line Sports Camp, or Mojo Volleyball Camp?

Representatives from all of these organizations showed up to a recent Sports Commission meeting to voice their concerns over the new way summer camps will be administered, their ability to pay hourly employees, and new cost burdens on families.

Summary of changes

1) When you pay for a camp, that money will now go to the county instead of the camp. Arlington does not need to pay camps for their services until 45 days after camp finishes. This creates a serious cash flow problem for camps that could make them unable to feasibly operate.

As an employer, campes are required to pay hourly workers biweekly according to Virginia state law, and camps often last 5 days. This means after camp finishes, camps are legally required to pay their employees 9 days later, but the county does not need to pay the camps for another 45 days. Staff even stated that their contractor for this service is not known for speed on disbursements. This is a cash flow problem that effectively eliminates camp operators from effectively being able to run their businesses.

As conveyed by those at the Commission meeting, oftentimes these camps are run by teachers. These are not year-round businesses like normal county contractors. One camp administrator estimates their camp costs at around $100,000, which they would not have the ability to pay without having the registration revenue.

2) Increased fees given for the county will lead to increased costs to campers. Arlington now requires 30% of all revenues to be given to the county. This has increased from 20% in just three years.

Patriots Girls Basketball camp founder, Kip Davis, said, “In the 25 years I’ve hosted this camp I have increased my cost by just $55. I don’t make a ton of money doing this camp. I do it for the kids. We want to make sure all kids can afford to go to camp, see friends, and give parents a little break. This dramatic increase in cost plus us not being in control of funds will cause camp prices to noticeably increase, which is counter to my goal of camp affordability.”

Why changes are being made 

The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) said to contractors “As a result of having to cancel all camps this past summer due to COVID-19, we saw an inconsistent experience for our camp families and identified that other jurisdictions did not based on handling the entire registration and payment process.”

In my opinion, if the problem is with inconsistent refund policies, then an easy solution would be to require a standard refund policy.

Counter to Arlington Way

These new terms were given in a take-it-or-leave-it manner. If camps wanted to operate next year they had to sign off on these new terms within 14 days, or cease to exist. This is counter to “The Arlington Way.” Even after significant objections were presented no changes were made.

As one commissioner purportedly pointed out, this seems to be a contract of adhesion or a contract where a contract is presented to a weaker party who has no bargaining power or choice about the terms. With camps being at risk of breaking Virginia employment law for not being able to pay employees in a timely manner, their coercion to sign this contract could be argued to be “unconscionable.”

Luckily, also according to DPR, “The contract allows for changes to the contract that are in line with the scope of work, updates for any local, State and/or Federal laws.” This hopefully would allow for some changes to be offered with more reasonable terms before camps start next summer.

I attended the Patriot Girls Basketball Camp every year I was able to. It was something my friends and I, particularly those that could hit a good 3-pointer and earn a whole pack of Starbursts (if you know you know), looked forward to every year.

These four camps constitute approximately a quarter of county camp revenues. If these changes put out some of the county’s most popular summer camps, we will have many unhappy parents, kids, and alums.

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