Morehead City, N.C.
July 4, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
In defense of the county commissioners’ decision, as an elected official, it is difficult being responsible for deciding the best way to spend other people’s money (taxes). People will never agree on what is the best use of such money, which is why many officials prefer to take as little of people’s money as possible and leave more of the decisions in the hands of individuals, the people. The commissioners did not want to raise taxes, therefore we as a school board had a limited amount of money to work with.
When considering whether to continue specific funding of MaST [Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School], lots of factors might have gone through commissioners’ minds. They likely considered frustrations over their perceptions of the intended purpose of MaST (teaching trades versus providing students free transferable college credits to a N.C. university). They likely considered the continued shrinking of supposed state fund designated specifically for the Early College program (from $1,600,000 over five years when we initially applied, down to $900,000 when the Board of Education (BOE) decided to open MaST, down to zero dollars before the school actually opened). They likely balked at CCC’s [Carteret Community College] offer of helping to fund MaST because CCC had just requested (and ultimately received) a $100,000 increase to their own operating budget. And commissioners likely considered that we were again in almost the exact same funding position as last year (with no guaranteed state funding).
Regardless of their reasons, the commissioners [BOC] voted to remove the local allocation of funding for MaST ($245,958 for 2019-2020) but allow the BOE to keep those funds and decide how to best spend the limited funds available. The BOC indicated their preference of funding lost teaching positions over MaST, but ultimately the difficult decision was ours, as the Board of Education.
In defense of our school administration decision, after the county commissioners’ June 16th vote regarding county budgets, our school system had to respond … below is the text message conversation between our superintendent and our BOE members that same evening, after the BOC vote:
Monday, June 17 – 8:30 p.m. Matthew Dean Bottoms
… tonight, the board of commissioners voted to take the mast funding and reallocate it to hire teachers who were lost due to the ADM reduction. … Of course, this will need to have a board vote and it will need to be done expeditiously. …
Monday, June 17 – 8:44 p.m. Travis Day
I assume we need to call a special meeting. Should we try for Thursday or one day next week? Can MaST students and parents be contacted before our special meeting to be notified of the result of the commissioner vote? They are going to find out anyway … it might as well come from the school system.
Tuesday, June 18 – 12:24 a.m. Matthew Dean Bottoms
You do have to officially vote, but the wording of the motion was along the lines of moving the money from MaST to the positions cut due to the ADM loss. We can get the language, but the motion was clear that MaST was to be unfunded locally.
The day after the BOC vote, in phone conversations with the superintendent and staff, we discussed the next steps and plans to move forward, given the lack of local funding (and still no guarantee of state funding) for the Early College. We discussed waiting until our board meeting on June 27 to make our decision. But at that time, administration felt that even June 27 was too late. They needed to move forward as soon as possible since the lack of funding was clear, and our decision would affect students, parents, teachers, principals and other staff. So the decision was made to hold our fateful vote on June 20
In defense of BOE members, like our superintendent, BOE members saw the writing on the wall: reduced appetite at the state level for funding special programs such as Early College; not enough local funding for all of our school system’s needs; even higher costs and more local funding needed to sustain MaST in the future. Our administration and our school system needed to move forward. Given these facts, the following motion was made on June 20:
“Given the continued uncertainty of state funding required to sustain Early College, and given the lack of financial support for MaST at the county level, and given the additional lack of funding to sustain numerous teaching positions in other schools throughout our county … I move that we act on the recommendation of the Board of Commissioners to use local funds previously allocated for MaST, to fund as many unfunded teaching positions as possible. This will leave the MaST Early College High School unfunded and will result in the school needing to be closed.”
This was not a motion and vote to officially close MaST on June 20. But the motion reflected the sentiment of the majority of the board regarding our funding priorities, and it indicated that we needed to move forward with the formal process for closing MaST (which we are doing now). We knew this would have a profound impact on MaST students. We had already received information about negative impacts of MaST on some of our high schools. We knew there were continued questions about funding and sustainability of MaST, especially given all the other needs of our school system. Much of this information and more went into the decisions of our board members. This information and more will be revealed in the formal closing process we have begun, and will be shared with the public. But again, much of this information is not new to BOE members.
I again thank all of our BOE members (and many school staff) for all of their time and all that they have had to endure during this process. It is especially frustrating when so much incorrect information is being spread.
I have been studying the pros and cons of MaST for two years and have had lots of concerns along the way.
I worried about our current high schools losing some of their best students to MaST.
I worried about inequities between MaST and our other high schools.
I worried about negative impacts of MaST on our other high schools.
I worried about opening MaST when we didn’t have guaranteed funding.
I worried about our ability to sustain the school financially in the future.
I worried whether MaST should be a priority over so many other school system needs.
I worried about the wasted staff time, money and other resources if we had to close MaST.
I worried about the impact on students if MaST had to be shut down after only a year.
I worried that all these negative impacts would be worse later and potentially impact even more than it already has.
I worried that not enough people were considering these same concerns.
I was obviously frustrated at our special BOE meeting on June 20 when we held our vote. I was frustrated that we were in this situation in the first place, and I was frustrated that so many people hadn’t heard my concern. But I apologize for showing my frustrations at a public meeting. It was not fair to MaST parents and students who had even more reason to be frustrated and concerned about the wellbeing and future of their own children.
As chairman I had to be the one to guide our board through this process, and I understood I was likely to face the full force of many people’s frustrations and anger. Although it is not a perfect process, the process is unfortunately unavoidable, given our circumstances.
In defense of MaST families, I still do not blame MaST families for advocating for their children. I want to tell them it is going to be OK, but I obviously cannot promise this. We do have great high schools with many great options and programs, and these schools would welcome all students who had hoped to attend MaST in the fall.
We still have dual enrollment, AP courses, and other options for allowing students to earn college credits to help save money on college. Students in our traditional high schools can still take classes in trades and CTE and earn an associates degree while attending traditional high school. So although MaST might be some people’s preferred route for achieving these goals, the goals are still achievable in our traditional high schools. And our school system will continue to work with parents and students to meet their goals as best we can.
TRAVIS DAY, Chairman
Carteret County Board of