Beaufort — Despite concerns about the lack of state funding, county commissioners have financially committed to the proposed early college high school scheduled to open on the campus of Carteret Community College this fall.
During county commissioners’ Monday regular session, Carteret County Schools Superintendent Mat Bottoms and Carteret Community College President Dr. John Hauser answered questions about the early college their respective agencies are pursuing together.
“We’re excited that the county is supporting it,” Dr. Hauser said. “We’re all on board and moving forward. It’s going to be a great experience for the students in Carteret County. We’re extremely excited.”
In February, the State Board of Community Colleges approved the application to establish an early college, titled the Marine Science and Technology Early College, or MaST, on CCC’s campus.
Officials for the proposed early college hoped the General Assembly would approve funding as part of their 2018-19 fiscal year budget, in addition to a county contribution. The state’s budget, however, does not include MaST funding, which prompted commissioners to question the wisdom of a county appropriation.
Soon after realizing the state would not provide financial help in MaST’s first year, both Mr. Bottoms and Dr. Hauser said they were committed to getting the early college up and running in time for the fall semester. This would be easier done if the county approved their request of $185,000, they added.
Although these funds were included in the proposed county budget, which was introduced to the public in May, the proposed budget was developed and released before the General Assembly decided not to provide start-up funding.
Commissioners ultimately decided to provide $186,358 in funding, but not before having another debate on the topic.
“When we left from our last budget meeting, we had just learned a few days prior to that meeting that the state was not going to fund the MaST startup, at that time,” Commissioner Robin Comer said. “I was a little apprehensive, then. Is that money coming in the next cycle?”
Both Mr. Bottoms and Dr. Hauser tried to calm commissioners’ fears by hinting at the possibility of the state providing funding in fiscal year 2019-20.
Mr. Comer agreed.
“I feel confident, on the next cycle it’s definitely going to be in there,” Mr. Comer said. “There still is a dilemma about starting it this year.”
In total, the school system has $311,358 for the early college high school’s inaugural year. Of that, $186,358 comes from the county and an additional $125,000 will come from the community college.
Officials have opted to move forward with the early college high school without $180,000 in grant funding from the state, though they are confident the state will provide funding in later years.
The community college’s contribution of $125,000 means the early college high school will operate this year with $55,000 less than they had originally anticipated.
In its initial year, the school will serve up to 50 students, all of whom are freshmen. Mr. Bottoms said MaST would focus on students who lean more toward a vocational path.
Mr. Comer and County Chairman Mark Mansfield asked for specific details on the school’s curriculum. Both wondered if the nontraditional path of the early college was a hindrance.
“You have to understand, when a ninth-grader enters, next year, they won’t start those (advanced) courses until after 10th and 11th grade,” Dr. Hauser said. “That gives us two years.”
Commissioner Jonathan Robinson expressed fear that the majority of the financial burden would be placed on the county if the state decides never to follow through with additional funding.
“I feel like I need to be the devil’s advocate to some degree here,” Mr. Robinson said. “You’re going to let 50 students go into that program. This isn’t going to be easy, it’s going to be more demands, all the time.”
Mr. Robinson said he didn’t want to see MaST operate at the detriment of the county’s other public schools.
“This proposal has a potential to be a drain on every other school,” Mr. Robinson said.
Mr. Bottoms said participating students always have the option to transfer back to their current schools.
“They can go back,” Mr. Bottoms said. “They can go back to the traditional high school and they (can keep) the credits.”
Mr. Robinson questioned the idea of students committing to an early college path.
“You’re telling me a 13- or 14-year-old student knows the career path he or she wants to take?” Mr. Robinson asked. “Some of these students are more advanced academically and intellectually than my generation. Some ways they are socially inferior, I don’t think any of them, at 14 years old, know what type of career path they are going to take.”
Mr. Comer said he doesn’t see a problem starting with young students.
“The cream will always rise and getting them starting on a track they are interested in, that doesn’t mean they are locked in,” Mr. Comer said.
Commissioner Ed Wheatly changed gears to talk about protecting the students.
“I really think that’s important,” Mr. Wheatly said. “I think that’s going to be important to the parents and the people who are sending their (children) over there.”
Dr. Hauser said safety is something they take seriously. They are in the process of hiring a new security officer, as well as installing more advanced cameras.
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.