Since its inception, Marine Science Technical Early College High School has remained on unstable ground due to funding. The latest school board vote demonstrates just how precarious the school has remained in Carteret County.
At the June 20 meeting of the Board of Education, Board members voted 4-3 to close the school. Just over one month later, at a special meeting to decide the fate of MaST, a 5-2 vote determined the school would open as scheduled.
Following a summer of public hearings for MaST supporters, continuous updates from the North Carolina General Assembly about the state budget, and a lawsuit filed against the Board of Education, two board members changed their votes from “no” to “yes.”
Clark Jenkins and Brittany Wheatly both supported Travis Day and Kathryn Chadwick to close the school at the June 20 meeting. They cited uncertainty of state funding as a primary reason for voting to close the school. While Jenkins said it would be irresponsible to fund the school without knowing about state funding, Wheatly said the same and added a point about not wanting to forgo the needs of other students in the county to fund MaST.
Jenkins voted “yes” and later cited several reasons for changing his mind. In addition to the guarantee that no teachers would lose their jobs, Carteret Community College pledged a $180,000 loan to open the school for the next year. The Board also discusses a potential partnership with CCC to create trade academies at the traditional schools with MaST being an integral part of the model, Jenkins said.
Another reason for changing his vote was the democratic showing of support for MaST throughout the tumultuous decision process, an aspect that several Board members praised at the July 29th vote.
“When kids my sons [sic] age are able to stand up for what they believe in, stand in front of adults and plead their case and go out into the community and meet with people in an effort to save a school that they obviously love, it makes it apparent that the right thing to do is to keep the school open,” Jenkins said.
Brittany Wheatly did not respond to requests for comment about why she changed her vote. At the July 29th meeting, during individual comment before casting her vote, she said, “I ride on both sides of the fence. I always have. I see both sides of the story, and it’s really difficult. I have struggled with the financial part of it. But, I vote yes.”
MaST supports were present at every Board meeting regarding the school and some county commissioners meetings. On July 29th, students wore MaST tee shirts and held hand-made signs calling to keep their school open. Every seat in the meeting room was occupied, and people stood in the adjacent doorway and hallway throughout the entire meeting.
Regarding the decision to keep MaST open, Chairman of the Board Travis Day commented that he could not speak to other members’ reasons for casting a certain vote.
“But I do know that it is very difficult to see a room full of kids and parents pleading to keep MaST open without that weighing heavily on your decision process. We did not hear as much from the other parents and taxpayers of the county who may also be affected by the decision to fund MaST over the lost teaching positions,” Day said.
Day also referenced the preliminary injunction filed by MaST parents immediately following the July 24 public hearing. The injunction sought to stop closing procedures of the school, and it alleged that families’ due process rights under the state constitution were violated.
Day said nobody wanted to deal with lawsuits, especially because the matter had already been drawn out. He said that legal counsel to the Board ensured them that courts would have upheld the Board’s decision. Jenkins likewise said that the legal aspect had no bearing on his vote change.
MaST will open on Aug. 7 as scheduled.
According to Tabbie Nance, communications officer for Carteret County Public Schools, MaST is on track to secure funding for future years. She said the commissioners originally agreed to five years of funding, and once the budget passes, it should cover five more years of funding.