On a microscope

Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School freshman Amber America works on a research assignment in January during an aquaculture technologies class. The school board plans to close MaST. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — Tempers flared at county commissioners’ Monday evening meeting at the administration building on Court House Square as residents expressed concerns about the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School’s closure.

While commissioners said they were trying to dispel rumors and misinformation about the school’s fate, during public comment a number of parents, students and staff of MaST criticized the board’s recommendation that funds be diverted from the school.

“Honestly when I heard you wanted to close us, I was quite distraught,” MaST student Courtney Du Marce said. “Why would you guys give us false hope if you (didn’t plan to fund the second year)?”

Other MaST supporters said the closure was a detriment to students.

“To shut this off now would be to shut off the opportunities … for future generations to come,” Beaufort resident Kimberly Nyman said. “This is something we can get the funding for. The community is in support.”

Last month, during their June regular session, county commissioners voted 5-2, with commissioners Robin Comer and Jimmy Farrington opposed, to provide county funding with a “heavy preference” for preserving teaching position elsewhere in the school system instead of funding MaST.

While the board’s decision did express a preference for how the money was to be spent, the closure decision rested with the County Education Board.

Days after the county commission vote, the school board, during a packed special meeting, decided to close the high school’s doors.

MaST funding is both a state and local issue. Gov. Roy Cooper and lawmakers are currently clashing over the passage of a state budget, and local governments aren’t sure if funding for early college high schools will ultimately be included.

Currently, Republican lawmakers are scrambling for Democratic support to overturn Gov. Cooper’s veto of the budget.

“The state is the one not funding this program,” Mr. Farrington said at Monday’s meeting. “We put it back in the hands of the board of education. I was on the other side of that vote, but we put it back (to) the board of education. I had an open mind and I’m going to leave it at that.”

During their June meeting, county commissioners said not knowing if state funding would be available makes it difficult to commit county funds, even though Carteret Community College agreed to pick up the state’s slack if needed. State funding, if granted, is expected to total around $180,000.

County commissioners repeated their concerns Monday.

Despite decisions from county commissioners and the school board, some MaST supporters are holding out hope the early college high school will be able to continue to when the academic year starts in the fall.

They have been circulating a petition to save the school, while a committee consisting of school board members will meet Monday to further explore the question of closing the MaST early college high school.

Speakers at Monday’s commission meeting hoped to change county commissioners’ minds, though their efforts weren’t successful.

County Chairperson Mark Mansfield expressed regret with how the issue has played out.

“I’d like to apologize to the students,” Mr. Mansfield said, adding that the board’s decision to initially fund the MaST program shouldn’t have happened without assurance that funding would be available.

Mr. Mansfield’s words came after a number of residents came forward to defend the school.

“I just want to say that I feel like in life we choose paths … and those are the paths that we try to stay on,” MaST student Porter Quinn said. “We chose to come to this school. I just … ask that you reconsider your funding to the school.”

Other students joined Mr. Quinn in praising the school’s impact after only a single academic year.

John Mason, a recent middle school graduate, hoped to attend the MaST program in the fall.

“There’s been a lot of misconceptions about MaST” only picking elitist students, Mr. Mason said. “That’s not true because I know for a fact that I was not one of the smartest students or one of the smartest that applied, but I still got in.

“If they do shut down the school, I think it would be a mistake because it is a great opportunity for many people,” he told the board.

Commissioner Ed Wheatly agreed with Mr. Mason on some points, saying there has been misinformation about the issue.

“There has been a lot said,” Mr. Wheatly said. “Some of the things that have been said and written were not true. Some of the things were true. Sometimes people get mad and say things they really don’t mean.”

Mr. Wheatly referred to a letter to the editor published in the News Times in which the author claimed county commissioners approved raises for themselves and the school board members.

“That isn’t true,” Mr. Wheatly said. “There is no truth to it.”

Commissioner Bill Smith echoed Mr. Mansfield, saying that he wasn’t sure if the MaST program was what he expected.

“I voted for MaST because I was under the impression we would have vocational training in there, along with the college kids,” Mr. Smith said, making the claim that the majority of the initial 50 students were not on a vocational path. “Like I said, I voted because I wanted a vocational school.”

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

(16) comments

dc

Obviously everyone is not smart enough to drop out of Harvard to become one of the world's richest. Or to be ingenious and shrewd enough to sell the world including the "education industry" on the idea you can't live or be successful without their products. Fast forward and some of these "generous" & unbelievably rich folks want to "help" save the world & improve on the "education" they didn't need to be successful. One form of that "help" was conceived to give HS students who are "poor" and whose parents aren't college graduates a "path to success" by providing "seed" money to start something called "early college high schools" (ECHS). Somewhere along the way some in the "education industry" thought "wow, what a great idea". It is almost as great as their salesmanship that made them gazillionaires. With such great ideas that we just can't live or be successful without one would think the gazillionaires could find it in their hearts to reach deeper in their endless deep pockets and come up with more than "seed" funds. Heck no they were brilliant enough to get the ball rolling so us peons should at least be willing to spend a little piggy bank money to perpetuate their ideas and "ideology". Of course, to benefit from their "ideology" all young folks need more than a job and a trade. They need the 4-year "experiences". And, what's so great what ain't free now soon will be if they get the right "ideology" running the show. Then, we fools can keep our piggy bank money.

Dakota

Do I understand this right? This is over $180,000 of funding? If that is correct then you have got to be kidding me that they can't find the money. That is not a deal breaker so this to me just reeks politics. On another note you have one board commissioner stating he thought it was going to be vocational and that is why he voted for it originally. My response to that is how does his "thinking" overrule the will and support of the community? He could fight for what is right and be a leader to find the money and/or be a strong vocal advocate for the school to remain open. In your neck of the country are these people "elected"? If so,,,,remember them come election time.

Osprey

Only $180000. That in addition to County funds of $265000 is $435000 for 100 students. $43500 per student. As a County resident and taxpayer I would think the funds would be better utilized where ALL county students could benefit- like funding 7 additional teachers in the County.

Osprey

Supporting MaST is supporting redistricting and forfeiting an opportunity to expand the teacher workforce by 7. To keep MaST open for 100 students another 100 +/- would have to be redistricted to another school. So as a MaST supporter you are basically saying the 100 to be transferred are less important the 100 MaST students. How difficult is it for a child to be unwillingly transferred to another school away from their peers. A MaST supporter has no problem taking an 11th grade student from WCHS and moving the student to ECHS for his/her Senior year. A MaST supporter would take a rising Freshman and put him/her in a different school from their peers of their past 8 years. A MaST supporter doesn't care that the School system could employ 7 additional teachers to help reduce class sizes. A MaST supporter only cares about the small minority that can still get Vo Tech courses in Jr & Sr years without the financial cost and consequences that trickle to the majority of the student population. I applaud the County Commissioners for allowing the BOE to keep the $265000 funds that were allocated to MaST. They could have just as easily absorbed the funds for another use. I applaud the BOE members who have the courage to use funds in a way that benefits the majority rather than a select few. I expect considerable commentary from MaST supporters because it seems their nature is to attack any opinions that differ than their own.

dc

Spending well over $40K per pupil when probably just over $10K per pupil is spent for other HS students. Can anyone in their right mind justify the fairness of that? Even if every student in the early college high school were poor with parents who didn't attend college and for good measure add minority, which is what it was suppose to be about, the disparity in per pupil spending still can't be justified in any way, shape or form.

dc

Something doesn't sound right. 435000 divided by 100 is 4350 not 43500. If you can in fact spend only that much then make all schools early colkege.

dc

Is it the case that $4350 more per pupil is being spent on early college? If so, that's still not fair.

Osprey

typo 4450 per

Momof3

Just to correct some of the comments above... It would expand the teaching force by 4 - and closing MaST would lose 4 teachers so its a wash. Also MaST is the lowest of per pupil expenditures in the county. $1000 per pupil less than west carteret and croatan and $1800 per pupil less than East Carteret.

dc

So, you're saying HS students attending a CC college would be less cost to taxpayers than them going to a traditional HS? Does this include transportation and all other expenses? Where did we go wrong building and sending kids to high schools when we could HAVE gotten such a bargain sending ALL of them to a CC to begin with. Let's get this problem corrected ASAP.

Clark Johnson

DC, thank you for pointing out the error in the math. And yes, the numbers confirm that MaST offers the lowest per pupil cost of all of the county high schools. Osprey, no one has said anything about redistricting for MaST so it seems curious that you have taken that angle in your comments. Although some have said that is why the Chairman of the BOE is so vigorously fighting to close MaST. You said some pretty ugly things about MaST supporters. How do you attack us without attacking parents of AIG students, or varsity athletes, or parents of Tiller kids? All of these programs benefit the few over the many, and I am sure there are many children who don't make the cut for those programs who would enjoy being included. MaST is simply another model for high school education that is working exceptionally well statewide. Why not give it a chance to succeed in Carteret County? Our county will benefit with local jobs for our local kids.

dc

Sounds a little too good to pass the test. Kind of like renting and deciding it would be advantageous to ask a relative if I could live with them for my current rent while most if not all other expenses I'd normally incur are paid by the relative.

dc

My concern about education is more about fairness and improvements in education in general and overall for ALL students not just a few chosen by a lottery. An idea hatched by a billionaire's foundation or by an individual school district to enhance educational opportunities for those supposedly lacking in opportunity compared to ALL others is not a magic bullet to cure the ills in education. If these "innovative" ideas have proven themselves it is time the movers and shakers in education get moving and find a way to make these opportunities available to ALL students countywide, statewide and nationwide. We are one of the better systems in the state and it's taken us this long to find that magic bullet when others have been at for years?

Patches

It's interesting how people interpret information from articles or public meetings. DC thinks that MaST is unfair to the rest of the students in the county and that MaST only took the "best." Actually MaST was more then fair when it came to student selection. 1. There were several notices sent home to announce public meetings. 2. There were several public meetings in different locations where the presenters asked for questions and answered them in detail. 3. There was a tour of the facility before the student selection process. They wanted to show the public that different programs would be available. 4. The selection process was explained in detail. It was repeatedly explained that they would not just take AIG students. They were looking for students that wanted technical training as well. The presenters drew diagrams to explain the process. Anyone who attended the meetings could tell that there was a lot of thought put into how the school would operate. I was actually surprised that the number of applicants that applied was so low the first year. When I questioned why more didn't apply, I was told it was because some wanted to play sports, be in the band, or wanted the high school experience. They didn't think MaST would feel like a regular high school. The students that went the first year gave up a lot to attend MaST. The hardest part for a lot of them was giving up seeing their friends. After all, they are teenagers and at this age friends are very important. The students that chose to apply and attend MaST made the choice for their future. Not every student wants to play sports, sing, play in band, or go to college. That's why MaST is good for our community. It fills the gap that was there because of the limited choices the high schools provide. Life is not fair, otherwise we would all be beautiful and rich. People have choices and if you wanted your child to attend Tiller or MaST all you had to do was apply. We owe our kids the very best education we can provide and MaST in one year has shown that it's a school that gives our students success and should continue to operate.

dc

You are right that everything in life is not fair but once again if taxpayers are expected to pay for every child's basic education then it needs to be as fair as possible. If I had children in school eligible to attend MaST I'd probably encourage them to apply basically for the same reasons everyone did. That still doesn't make it right. What's the deal with AIG students excluded? So just because a student happens to qualify for AIG placement they get excluded from an opportunity to complete two years of college credit when graduating HS? What kind sense does that make? Wasn't one of the elements for eligibility for students who need to be academically challenged. So AIG students are "supposed" to be academically challenged just because they are in that program and are expected to figure a way to complete two years of college credits while in one of the traditional high schools? If I were an AIG parent and I was long ago I would not be happy.

dc

I stand corrected. I misread your comment that AIG student were excluded. My position on fairness stands.

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