BEAUFORT — During a YouTube electronic conference Monday, the County Board of Education adopted a $3.7 million county capital request and and $25.5 million operations request for 2020-21.
Board members attended the special meeting electronically because of safety measures related to the coronavirus. The session was broadcast live for the media and public.
The meeting sparked a conversation about whether there would be state funding for the third year of operation of the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School, which is located on the campus of Carteret Community College in Morehead City.
“Do we have a plan in place to accommodate if we don’t have funding from the state? I want to make sure funding is in place so we don’t keep kicking this can down the road,” board member Travis Day said during discussion of the operations portion of the budget.
Interim Superintendent Richard Paylor said the school system would not know about state funding until the General Assembly goes back into session at the end of April.
The board voted separately on the capital and operations portions of the budget request, which now go to county commissioners. The commissioners must adopt their budget by Tuesday, June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The 2020-21 operations request, which was approved by a 6-1 vote, is a 3.5% increase over the $24.7 million appropriated for this fiscal year. Finance Officer Kathy Carswell said reasons for the increase were mandated increases in flood insurance costs, retirement and hospitalization benefits.
Mr. Day cast the dissenting vote for the operations budget because of his concern over funding for MaST. He also asked if there was funding in place for the MaST principal’s position, held by DeAnne Rosen.
Ms. Carswell said there was funding in place for Ms. Rosen’s position. She said the school district was able to fund the position with state money originally allocated for two teaching positions. She explained the the school system had budgeted state funds for the two positions but then received federal Title 1 funds, which will now be used for those positions, freeing up the state funds for the principal’s post.
She further explained that once the school has 100-plus students, the state will fund her position. That should start for the 2021-22 year.
Interim Superintendent Richard Paylor said the school’s administration was currently going through student applications for the 2020-21 class at MaST, which is scheduled to begin its third year in August. The school was nearly closed last summer after a bitter battle between MaST parents, students and supporters and some school board members, including Mr. Day.
The school ended up receiving a combination of funds through CCC and the county.
School officials are hoping the state will provide about $200,000 for MaST for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Until the state adopts its budget, they wait.
“We don’t have a concrete plan, but I think a lot will be answered the end of April when the legislature comes back in session,” Mr. Paylor said.
Board member Jake Godwin hesitated on approving the operations budget without assurances there would be a guarantee from the county it would pick up the tab for MaST if state funding falls through.
“I will vote in favor as long as there is wording (in the budget request) that we will be looking to the county to help us if state funding isn’t there,” Mr. Godwin said. He ended up voting in favor of the operations request.
BOE Chairman John McLean, who has been a strong supporter of MaST, said he and Vice Chairman Clark Jenkins have met with County Chairman Bill Smith and County Manager Tommy Burns to discuss MaST.
“They’ve indicated they would be willing to support MaST if we’ll focus on more vocational training,” Mr. McLean said.
MaST allows students to gain high school and college credits simultaneously and is housed on the CCC campus, following the college’s academic calendar.
As for the $3.7 million capital request, Ms. Carswell said it’s 1.75% less than the $3.8 million approved by the county for the 2019-20 year. Much of the request focuses on student safety and upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
In addition to the $3.1 million in regular capital, the school system’s capital request includes $43,675 for lease payments on modular units installed three years ago to help ease overcrowding at Croatan High School and $588,480 for the fourth year of payments on a five-year lease for technology equipment at county schools. As a separate line item, the school system is also requesting $560,000 to place in a county contingency fund for chiller replacements.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.