Editor's note: This article was last updated July 30 at 7:32 p.m.
BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Education voted 5-2 Monday night to keep the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School open for the upcoming academic year, rescinding a previous decision the board made in June to close the school.
The Monday vote came in the form of a resolution made by board member John McLean and seconded by Melissa Ehlers during a special meeting at the school system’s central office on Safrit Drive. Mr. McLean and Ms. Ehlers were joined in the affirmative by Clark Jenkins, Vice Chairman Jake Godwin and Brittany Wheatly.
Board Chairman Travis Day and member Kathryn Chadwick voted against the resolution to reopen the school this year.
“You’ve made your voices heard, parents, students. My constituents from my area have always made their voices heard, they want this program to continue,” Mr. Godwin said just prior to casting his “yes” vote. “Considering the things that we have discussed and gone through, I believe that we have a good program to get going and make it a better part of our school system to make sure everyone has the opportunity to make themselves a better student and better parent, so I vote ‘yes.’”
The boardroom packed with MaST students, parents, administrators and supporters erupted into applause and cheers when the board announced its decision to keep the school open another year. Many shed tears as they embraced each other, and there was a small celebration with cake following the meeting.
“I’m really happy and excited it’s staying open,” MaST rising sophomore Noah Steinhauser said. “…It’s been a stressful summer because of this, but I’m glad they made the decision to open.”
Beth Quinn, the mother of rising freshman Chase Quinn, said the summer was filled with anxiety over whether her son would have a school to attend for the upcoming academic year, so the board’s decision came as a relief.
“He’s excited about the aquaculture program especially,” Ms. Quinn said, adding she would have home-schooled her son had the decision gone the other way.
With the board’s majority decision to keep the school open, MaST students will have their first day of school Wednesday, Aug. 7 to coincide with the start of classes for Carteret Community College. MaST, which allows students to gain high school and college credits simultaneously, is housed on the CCC campus and follows the college’s academic calendar.
The decision follows a tumultuous summer for MaST students, parents and supporters that began when the board of education decided June 20 to close the school in a 4-3 vote. At the time, Mr. Day, Ms. Chadwick, Ms. Wheatly and Mr. Jenkins voted in favor of closing, while Mr. McLean, Ms. Ehlers and Mr. Godwin voted to keep the school open.
The initial decision to close MaST was based on a recommendation from county commissioners earlier in June to recommend reassigning $185,000 in local MaST funding to save several teaching positions expected to be cut due to lack of state funding. There was also concern the state budget, which has still not passed due to a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper and stalemate with the legislature, would not include funding for early college high schools.
In the weeks since June 20, the school board created a committee to guide formal closure procedures and commissioned a study, as required by state statute, on the impacts of closing the school.
Last week, an attorney representing MaST students and parents filed for a temporary injunction to halt the imminent closure, along with a civil complaint alleging the school board did not follow due process in the steps to close the school.
Neil Whitford, the school board’s attorney, kicked off Monday’s meeting by reading the state general statute, G.S. 115C-72, regarding the authority of local boards of education to close or consolidate schools. According to text, a school board must conduct a study and public hearings before approving closure of a school.
Mr. Whitford also presented the board two potential resolutions, one to open the school as scheduled and one for closing the school. He suggested the board work through the language of each resolution before voting. However, the board only considered the resolution for opening, which garnered enough “yes” votes to be adopted.
During the discussion portion of the meeting, Mr. Day reiterated his stance in favor of closing the school is based on funding concerns. He said while he is sympathetic to the situation of MaST students, he has to consider students in the rest of the school district who may be affected by teacher cuts that could lead to larger class sizes.
“Currently, we still do not have enough local funding to cover both MaST and the lost teaching positions,” he said. “…Regardless of the pros and cons of MaST and how it affects the rest of our school system, it ultimately comes down to a choice of our funding priorities.”
Using the $185,000 for MaST to fund teacher positions instead would have saved about four of the seven and a half positions in question.
School Superintendent Mat Bottoms clarified Monday if the money is used to operate MaST, there will no lay-offs of existing teacher positions, but the school system will freeze the hiring of some additional teachers.
During the meeting July 24, CCC President Dr. John Hauser offered MaST a $180,000 loan to help cover the school’s operation until funding comes through at the state level. If MaST funding is not included in the state budget, that amount would be a gift and MaST would not have to pay it back.
Mr. McLean, however, said the state funding for early college high schools is all but guaranteed. He said state Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, is confident funding for MaST and other early college high schools will ultimately be included in the state budget.
“The one person in the state who knows more about cooperative, innovative school funding is Craig Horn, and he has guaranteed it is forthcoming,” Mr. McLean said. “He said he’s talked to the governor’s office, the rest of the legislature and it is forthcoming, he just doesn’t know when. The state funding piece, had we waited a little bit (to decide), I think it would have been more clear.”
At the time of the board’s initial decision in June, Mr. McLean advocated waiting about two weeks to make the decision one way or another to gather more information about the school, including potential alternative funding sources. On Monday, he added the impact statements from students and parents affected by MaST greatly influenced his support of the school.
Ms. Ehlers, who also initially wanted more time to consider the decision, as well, highlighted a particular phrase from G.S. 115C-732 to make her case for keeping MaST open. The statute text reads, in part, “In any question involving the closing or consolidation of any public school, the local board of education of the school administrative unit in which such school is located shall cause a thorough study of such school to be made, having in mind primarily the welfare of the students to be affected by a proposed closing or consolidation…”
“Once a school exists, it’s crucial that we put your welfare above all else,” Ms. Ehlers said, addressing the crowd of students sitting on the floor of the meeting room. “…If we’re to follow a mandate, bound by the law, to keep your welfare paramount in our mind for making the decision on this path, then it becomes clear to keep MaST open, absolutely. This is our duty.”
After additional discussion, including a line-by-line look at the resolution to keep MaST open, each board member cast their vote with a brief explanation of their decision.
Ms. Chadwick, who represents the part of the school system that includes East Carteret High School, said her main concern with opening MaST was about how the early college school will eventually affect enrollment at ECHS.
During their final statements on the matter, board members commended MaST students for passionately advocating to keep their school open, saying they were impressed.
“If this passes tonight, I think it’s been an excellent light on our democracy,” Ms. Ehlers said. “We are so incredibly proud of you students for what you’ve accomplished. I think you’ve learned that you can take control of your future and, most importantly, you have a voice in this county.”
Following Monday’s meeting, MaST Principal DeAnne Rosen said she was glad the board decided to support the school for at least another year.
“I’m just very excited, our MaST family is back,” she said. “We’re very supportive and appreciative of our board of education’s decision and we’re going to work to be the best cooperative innovative high school in the state.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.
BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Education voted Monday night 5-2 in favor of keeping open the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School for the 2019-20 school year, rescinding a previous decision by the board to close the school.
The decision came in the form of a resolution made by board member John McLean and seconded by Melissa Ehlers. Mr. McLean and Ms. Ehlers were joined in the affirmative by board members Clark Jenkins, Jake Godwin and Brittany Wheatly, while board Chairman Travis Day and member Kathryn Chadwick voted against opening the school.
With the board’s majority decision to keep MaST open, students will have their first day of school Wednesday, Aug. 7, to coincide with the start of classes for Carteret Community College. MaST is housed on CCC’s campus and is partnered closely with the college.
MaST students, parents and supporters have been outspoken in recent weeks of their support for their school, urging school board members to reconsider their decision.
“You’ve made your voices heard, parents, students. My constituents from my area have always made their voices heard, they want this program to continue,” Mr. Godwin said just prior to casting his “yes” vote. “Considering the things that we have discussed and gone through, I believe that we have a good program to get going and make it a better part of our school system to make sure everyone has the opportunity to make themselves a better student and better parent, so I vote ‘yes’.”
The board’s decision Monday night caps a tumultuous summer for MaST students, parents and supporters that began with a 4-3 vote by the board June 20 to close the school.
That decision, as Mr. Day reiterated Monday night, was based on county commissioners’ recommendation to reassign $185,000 of local MaST funds to save seven and a half teacher positions that are at risk of not being funded due to likely state budget cuts. Reassigning the funds would have saved the school system four positions total.
School Superintendent Mat Bottoms clarified Monday if MaST stays open, there will be no lay-offs of existing teachers, rather the school system will freeze hiring of new teachers next school year.
Commissioners were also concerned the state budget wouldn’t include funds for early college high schools. While a final state budget has not yet been passed, Mr. McLean said some state legislators have stated the funds are all but guaranteed. Additionally, CCC President Dr. John Hauser has offered MaST a one-time $180,000 loan until state funding comes through, and if the money never materializes, the funds would be a gift, as stated in the resolution passed Monday.
After the vote Monday night, MaST Principal DeAnne Rosen said she was glad the board voted to continue supporting the school for at least another year.
“I’m just very excited, our MaST family is back,” she said. “We’re very supportive and appreciative of our board of education’s decision, and we’re going to work to be the best cooperative innovative high school in the state.”
MaST welcomed 50 freshmen for the pilot year of the early college high school in the 2018-19 academic year. Those students will return as sophomores and 50 new freshmen have been accepted for the 2019-20 academic year.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.