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.