Morehead City, N.C.
July 12, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
Our Board did not illegally close MaST. We did not vote to close MaST on June 20. With a limited amount of funding for our school system, we voted to use our locally provided tax dollars to fund other school system needs over MaST. Our vote represented the sentiments of the majority of our board regarding our funding priorities. And this led to start of the formal, legal process for closing MaST Early College, which we are going through now.
BOE members did not ask for and are NOT receiving raises. Even if a budget line item for “Board of Education” happened to be increased from last year (which the board did not request), this does not result in “personal benefits” for board members. Based on the number of hours spent on BOE issues, the BOE “salary” pays far less than minimum wage. So no, BOE members are not in this for the money or personal financial gains. We are simply trying to do what we feel is best for our entire school system and our community.
I have never told state representatives that we do not want state funds for Early College. The only communication I have ever had with state representatives was when I met a couple of them for the first (and only) time at a charity event years ago. I have never communicated with any of them since, nor I have ever communicated with anyone who works for them. However, when considering incentive programs such as that for Early College, after state incentives go away, we will be responsible for continuing these programs indefinitely with local funding. Our public schools already have enough challenges so I would prefer to focus more of our attention on keeping our current schools strong instead of trying to create new specialty schools. Creating innovative programs within our current schools can be less risky, less costly, and if needed, much easier to end and less impactful on students than having to close an entire school.
Redistricting is not a solution for saving MaST. Move the ECHS/WCHS line toward the hospital and move the WCHS/Croatan line closer to Croatan so that a small population of students can attend MaST? Redistricting will do nothing to provide additional funding for MaST.
MaST is NOT a “trade school.” Many people are under the impression that MaST is a trade school, but it is NOT! Shortly after MaST opened last year (on Aug. 28, 2018), members of the BOE were provided information by the MaST principal indicating that 33 MaST students were labeled as College Bound, 8 were Career Ready (ready to start a career right after graduation) and 8 were Associate’s Degree: http://bit.ly/MaSTFall2018.
According to Principal Rosen, “Those that earn an associate’s degree will either go into the workforce or transfer to a four-year university.” So considering that 8 students are seeking Associate’s Degrees, the actual percentage of MaST students who are college bound could be anywhere between 67.3% and 83.7% (between 33 and 41 students, out of total 49 students enrolled): http://bit.ly/MaSTCollegeBound
In another chart provided to us by the MaST principal last August, only 4 students (out of 49, so 8.16%) were designated as students in the trades (1 student in welding and 3 in marine propulsion). Twelve students were listed as “Aquaculture-Marine Biology College Bound” and another 22 were listed as general “College Bound.” So together, 34 out of 49 students were listed as college bound. So even if several MaST students changed their minds during the year, that still would not make enough difference for MaST to be considered a trade school.
MaST is an “Early College.” A week before our vote (June 20) to fund teacher positions instead of MaST, I met with the MaST principal, our superintendent and two other board members. Given the large desire for increased trades education in our county, I asked why MaST was not a 100% trade school? I was told it was because then MaST would then be considered an “alternative school” and would not fit the “Early College” model. The typical Early College model focuses on trying to get more kids into college (be they “at risk” of dropping out of high school, “first generation” college students, etc.). Instead, let’s focus on getting them through high school, and into a good trade.
I feel we must stop giving students the impression that everyone needs to go to college in order to be successful.
I support (not oppose) more trades and job-skills classes in our high schools. From the beginning (before MaST ever opened), I have advocated for bringing more trades and more job skills classes back into our current high schools. This way we can provide trade offerings to a larger group of students without requiring them to go to a separate trade school. I believe in vocational training as much as I do college prep, which our traditional high schools are doing well. But they are not doing as well at vocational training. When I asked (over a year ago) why we weren’t trying to focus on 100% trade programs, I was told that it was because we would receive a significant amount of state incentive funding for creating an “Early College” (… state funding which unfortunately never materialized last year). I believe that the lack of vocational training classes in our current schools contributes to increased dropout rates for many children who are not college bound. Offering more trade classes within our current high schools will help alleviate this problem.
A 100% trade school may not be the best choice. Are we going to make 8th graders (at 13 years old) or their parents decide they should forego regular high school and instead go to a trade school (with fingers crossed that there are enough spots available)? MaST accepts 50 students per year, and only a small percentage (8%) of those slots is currently being used for students seeking actual trades. f their regular high school offered more trades and CTE (Career & Technical Education) programs, more kids could have the best of both worlds, namely trades education within their current area high school, without the enrollment limits or other shortcomings imposed by a dedicated trade school.
Don’t ignore our Dual Enrollment program with CCC. Where it is not feasible to add trades and job skills classes in our current high schools, we should enhance and improve our current Dual Enrollment program with CCC. If a class exists at the area high school, then students can take the class there. Otherwise, if needed, I am not opposed to bussing kids over to CCC for part of the day. If costs of books are a concern for dual enrollment students, perhaps grants can be sought, similar to the Golden Leaf Grant that covered textbook costs for MaST students.
Traditional high school students CAN take trade classes at CCC in the 9th and 10th grade. Most of the opportunities that might sway some students to enroll in MaST are already available to our traditional high school students. Yes, CCC has specified certain minimum requirements to ensure 9th graders are ready to take classes with older college students. But either a relaxing of this requirement for certain classes by CCC or a recommendation of the high school principal could be enough to satisfy this criterion. (I’m not sure why traditional high school undergrads are required to prove they deserve to take these classes, but MaST undergrads are not held to the same standard.) For more info, see my August 2018 letter to the editor http://bit.ly/whyIvotedNo with accompanying comments, and comments at the bottom of http://bit.ly/ExcitedToHeadMaST, where I included results of my question/answer session with Heather Dietzler, chief academic officer of Carteret County Schools.
I want the opportunities to earn free college credits to be more easily accessible to ALL our children. The (incorrect) perception that “free” college credits are only available to MaST students perpetuates the resentment of many non-MaST parents. These people feel the rest of the county is paying for “free” college credits for a select 50 students per year. Fortunately, students enrolled in our traditional high schools can earn the same number of college credits as MaST students. By encouraging students to take advantage of dual enrollment, we could help lower college costs for many more students in all of our high schools. So students can get similar financial benefits without needing to enroll in a special school. This statement is directly from CCC’s website: “Career & College Promise (CCP) is a program that allows North Carolina high school students to earn college credits tuition free while still in high school. The program provides seamless dual enrollment educational opportunities for eligible North Carolina high school students in order to accelerate completion of college certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees that lead to college transfer or provide entry level job skills.”
We are not abandoning certain children if we close MaST. We definitely need to help children who may “fall through the cracks” at our regular high schools. We have lots of resources in our current great high schools to be able to support many of these children. Where we are failing to meet these children’s needs, we obviously need to work harder. But in trying to prepare these students for the real world, creating a separate school to accommodate them is not the best solution. And what about the ones who don’t make the cut and do not get in through the lottery? In our position as BOE members, we must care for and look out for ALL the kids in our county (over 8,000 of them). Hopefully, the recent focus on the specific needs of these children will provide the momentum necessary to better address these problems across the entire county.
I want small classes for ALL of our children. A smaller school with smaller class sizes may be one of the biggest advantages of MaST. But rather than providing this opportunity to a small number of lucky lottery winners, I’d prefer to spread this opportunity throughout all of our schools. Our BOE vote to apply $245,958 of local funds toward lost teaching positions was one small step to try to achieve smaller class sizes for all. Even if our local school system budget was suddenly increased by an additional quarter million dollars, I still feel that these funds would be better spent to address the needs of our other county schools.
Beware of misleading information. As a simple rule, smaller schools with smaller class sizes have higher per-pupil expenditures. When our BOE was initially presented with a summary of per-pupil expenditures for each school, the accuracy of the stats was questioned and the actual data used to calculate these figures was requested. While evaluating the data, several items raised concern, and administration was asked to NOT use these numbers because they inaccurately portrayed MaST as a bargain. Yet these misleading numbers still showed up in letters to the editor and in the MaST presentation to county commissioners.
It is NOT cheaper to educate students at MaST than in other high schools in our county. First, the MaST per-pupil expenditure value was based on the 2018-2019 MaST budget, whereas the other high schools used actual 2017-2018 financial transaction data. In reviewing the financial transactions, I saw numerous costs for other high schools which were not present in the MaST per-pupil calculation — for example, athletic costs and “building costs” (custodial, maintenance, utilities). Without these costs, the effective per-pupil expenditures at other high schools would be lowered significantly, so much that MaST would then show as more expensive on a per-pupil basis than some of the same high schools it previously bested. Such costs need to be taken into consideration if one is to fairly compare per-pupil expenditures. For costs such as athletic (and transportation and other), MaST is reaping the benefits without having to pay any costs. But other schools or organizations are having to pick up the tab for MaST. This also applies to CCC … just because CCC is subsidizing building costs (utilities, etc.) for MaST does not mean this money is “free.” Our taxpayers are paying for these items one way or another. These costs are just on the books of other high schools or CCC rather than on the books of MaST deceptively making it appear that MaST is cheaper.
CCC’s offer to pay for MaST is also not “free” money. Even if CCC offers to pay for all of the costs of MaST, this is not “free money” for MaST and our taxpayers. This is just a pass-through of funds channeled through CCC. CCC just requested an increase of $100,000 from the county for their own operating budget this year, so many people were taken aback that CCC wanted to turn around and give more money to fund MaST. Again, taxpayers are still paying for it regardless of whose cash flow statement lists the costs. Is CCC really going to use their own funds to pay for $245,968 of the local cost of MaST this year, and even more in years to come? Is CCC also going to front the $200,000 in state “Early College” incentives until that funding comes through and then pick up that state portion of the tab (in addition to the continued local funding tab) once state incentive funds dry up? Where is CCC going to get all this extra money? (from state and local taxpayers)
State per-pupil funding will not fund MaST. You cannot simply take the state’s average per pupil expenditure for our county, multiply by the number of students at MaST and then try to suggest that this is enough to fund MaST. The state does not write each student a check for this amount that they can take with them and use wherever and however they want. It does not work that way. All schools share costs for things like superintendents, finance, curriculum, technology, testing, transportation, costs for taking care of severely disabled children, English as a second language kids, and the list goes on and on. Part of the state’s expenditures are applied to some of these costs, and we have other local shared costs which must be paid for regardless of whether these costs exist on the campus of MaST.
MaST was never expected to be self-supporting/self-sustaining with only state funding. The original MaST budget (when our Early College application was submitted in September 2017) estimated the amount of county commissioner local funding at $690,750 in Year 5. The following year (Year 6), after Early College incentive funds were scheduled to run out, it was estimated that our county would have needed to pay $940,750 in local funding every year to keep MaST open. This was with a planned 13 employees (9 core teachers) at MaST in years 5 and 6. And this was with an enticing $1,600,000 in supposed state incentive money over five years for early college (funding which never materialized). Even if we had received this substantial state incentive, we still would have been paying almost a million dollars per year in local funding.
Even with a severely reduced budget, MaST CANNOT support itself without local funding. Because we did not receive Early College incentive funds from the state last year, MaST operated on an extremely “bare bones” budget. The planned number of employees in Year 1 went from 8 employees (4 core teachers) when we submitted our application in September 2017, down to 5 employees (2 core teachers) on April 10, 2018. (And CCC helped pay for MaST’s guidance counselor.) On June 10, 2019, we received a revised and very reduced MaST budget. Even with the new budget showing far fewer employees than previously planned, the local funding requirement was also almost half of the original budget. But our recently revised MaST budget indicates it would still require $423,485 of local, county commissioner funding in year 5 (with potential for even higher costs every year after that). So regardless of any short term state incentives to entice school systems to adopt Early Colleges, it still requires a lot of local funding — money that a majority of our board members feel could be better spent in other areas of our school system.
Visit www.travisday.com for more information.
TRAVIS DAY, Chairman
Carteret County Board of