ELIZABETHTOWN — After months of back and forth, the Bladen County Board of Education is moving forward with a program that will let students get a jump-start on college.
Monday evening, the board voted to continue with plans for an Early College program in Bladen County. All board members were present except Berry Lewis.
The program has been a hot topic for Board of Education members since it was introduced at the board’s August retreat. Since that time, it has been addressed each month, with several board members questioning the funding. Monday’s meeting was held to share information board members learned by contacting other districts participating in the program.
“I think the big issue for the board, obviously, is not the merits of the program. I think we can all agree it is a great program and certainly will do a lot to help the students of Bladen County,” Superintendent Robert Taylor commented.
“One of the things we heard is that we didn’t meet with economic developers and know the needs of our county,” Assistant Superintendent Tanya Head offered.
She presented to the board information from the U.S Department of Labor showing projections for the fastest-growing occupations in the next 10 years. Behind renewable energy, which took the top two spots, are health occupations like home health aides, personal care aides, nurse practitioners, and physical therapist assistants. Rounding out the list are statisticians, software developers, and mathematicians.
“If we look at this, we see all of those would fall under our categories,” Head commented.
Staff are recommending four pathways — an associate in science, allied health, information technology, and machining and industrial technology. The first would result in a two-year degree, and the latter three pathways would merit certification.
After presenting information showing early colleges outperforming other schools by a large margin across the state, Head also told board members 95 percent of early colleges have a zero percent dropout rate.
“That’s pretty compelling,” she remarked.
One issue opponents to the program have voiced is whether or not students who enroll in the early college will be able to participate in athletics.
“People are looking for scholarships,” remarked Chris Clark.
“Even without athletics, 69 percent (of early college students) get scholarships,” responded Head.
After informing the board issues with transportation and nutrition have been “worked out,” staff turned attention to the issue at the heart of most of the opposition — money. The N.C. General Assembly uses a formula to distribute funds biennially. The formula is based on a tiered system, with Tier 1 counties like Bladen County eligible for the highest level of funding. Though the district will not get any funding for the 2017/2018 school year because the school will not have students enrolled, it will get $275,000 the following year.
“The big question is what if the funding changes, and we obviously can’t answer that, because we don’t know what the future might hold,” Taylor said.
One thing the district does know is that it will take money up front. Since funding will not come through until next summer and the principal and college liaison would need to begin work right away, the district would have to foot the $75,000 bill until July 2018 — $45,000 for six months of a principal’s salary and $30,000 for the same six months for a college liaison.
“Are we in a good position to pay this $75,000 this year?” questioned Alan West.
“We can pay for it,” responded Finance Officer Sharon Penny. “It will come out of local funds.”
“Will we have any left?” pressed Tim Benton.
“You budgeted $700,000, which leaves $400,000,” answered Penny, referring to the board’s September decision to move funds due to a decrease in enrollment this year. “I don’t know that we’ll use all $700,000 to meet this year’s needs, but we will not be putting anything back.”
Benton repeated a thought he has expressed numerous times throughout the three-month discussion — that of Bladen Community College helping pay for the college liaison.
“That would really help us,” he insisted, querying whether any regulation prevented the move.
“There is no restriction (preventing it),” answered Taylor, adding, “If something at the state changes … that would put us in a position where we have to go talk to somebody. I understand that aspect. I really do.”
McKoy made a motion to move forward with Early College, and the board unanimously approved the motion.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.