In letters to the editor today and statements made last week when county commissioners and the County Board of Education reassigned funding for the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School (MaST), the alarm, despair and frustration of parents who support MaST is unmistakably evident.
Funded for the first time last year and situated on the Carteret Community College campus, the school in which students could earn up to two years of college credit, enrolled 50 freshmen last year and was intent on enrolling 50 more this year.
In a special school board meeting Thursday, acting on the county commissioners’ Monday recommendation to reassign MaST funds to fund five to eight teaching positions, school board Chairman Travis Day moved to withdraw the $185,000 in county money “to fund as many unfunded teaching positions as possible.” His motion was approved 4-3 to reassign funds, thereby closing the school.
School supporters were and remain adamant that the decision was rushed, that the board could have waited two weeks to see if comparable state funding of $180,000 would be available.
Pointing out that the County School Superintendent Mat Bottoms and his staff need to make decisions now regarding hiring teachers and reenrolling displaced MaST students in high schools in their home districts, Mr. Day said he wasn’t comfortable waiting to decide what to do about diverting funds from MaST to fund teaching positions on the chopping block.
His reluctance is appropriate.
Releasing a statement Friday that he opposes “corporate tax cuts, unaccountable school vouchers and the SCIF (State Capital Infrastructure Fund) slush fund, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said “any budget compromise has to include discussion of Medicaid expansion, a school and infrastructure bond and significantly higher teacher salaries.”
Which the General Assembly has said it will not do, meaning the state budget is deadlocked.
Although the Senate has agreed on its $23.9 billion General Fund budget for FY 2020, and is conferencing with the House, outlook for a budget beginning July 1st is dim to nonexistent.
While the Senate version of the new budget contains $180,000 each year for three years to operate hundreds of early college high schools across the state such as MaST, and the governor’s budget contains five years’ funding, the House budget doesn’t include any funding.
And now with a standstill budget, funding is zilch.
Even though Dr. John Hauser, president of Carteret Community College, told county commissioners Monday that CCC was prepared to fund MaST until the state passed a budget — and in case it didn’t it was prepared to make up the difference — commissioners were not persuaded. Ultimately they decided, said News-Times staff writer Cheryl Burke, “their money would be better spent in other areas.”
While Gov. Cooper’s statement “indicated” items he mentioned “are negotiable,” it said “Republican leaders have nearly completed their budget and are unwilling to discuss all of these important priorities that benefit out state.
“Gov. Cooper and Democratic legislators are ready for a real budget negotiation that will find common ground between the two sides,” said the statement, “but Republications are simply refusing to engage in a robust, comprehensive conversation about a compromise.”
Lacking a veto-proof supermajority and knowing the General Assembly is unwilling to fund Medicaid expansion, the Carolina Journal said, “We have a budget stalemate which could last for months.
“The governor is treating the budget fight as the unofficial launch of his 2020 reelection campaign,” said the Journal, emphasizing that his budget only “covers $78.2 million — a mere 12% of the cost” of Medicaid expansion that “would require spending cuts or higher taxes.”
John Locke Foundation Health Policy Analyst Jordan Roberts said the governor’s expansion budget would cost $6.3 billion over two years, of which state and federal taxpayers would pick up 90%.
Because neither side is likely to compromise, the regrettable closure of MaST – and what it meant to its students — is disappointing. But it was also unavoidable.