School system to host public forums on possible changes at Ed Tech, S.W. Snowden

Published 8:08 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Beaufort County Board of Education wants community input before further considering two plans that would relocate students to new campuses within the school system.

One plan would move the school system’s alternative learning program from the former P.S. Jones High School onto the campus of Washington High School. The second would relocate the middle school grades at S.W. Snowden Elementary to Southside High School.

Board of Education members discussed the two possibilities in front of a packed house Tuesday, with teachers, principals and community members showing up to support their schools. Ultimately, the board did not take action on either plan, instead opting to host community forums in Aurora and Washington to discuss potential changes and receive feedback from the communities that would be impacted.

“We are not trying to make a motion to close a school at all,” BOE Chair Carolyn Walker said. “Our motion is that we have a community forum to involve the community, answer questions and take comments.”


Under the proposal laid out by BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman, students currently enrolled at the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center would move into modular units on the campus of Washington High School. Student instruction would shift from, “teacher-based instruction to an online opportunity with academic facilitators in the classroom,” according to Cheeseman.

The school’s employees could all be reassigned into existing positions throughout the school system, according to the superintendent. Relocating the program into a new facility, the Ed Tech program would still be considered its own school, with its own principal, by state standards.

Two members of the board, Mac Hodges and Eltha Booth, both stated that they would not vote to close and relocate the current Ed Tech Center, garnering applause from the audience. Board member Terry Draper made the motion to relocate Ed Tech to Washington High School and open the topic to a community forum, but later withdrew his motion.

Board member Michael Bilbro, participating via telephone, said that he would not be in favor of moving the program. Bilbro expressed concern over putting students in the modular units at Washington High School, saying those trailers are substandard and years beyond their usefulness.

T.W. Allen, also participating via phone, asked if there was money available to renovate the modular units at WHS. Cheeseman said there was, and that North Carolina Rep. Keith Kidwell was seeking a special appropriation from the General Assembly to cover the cost of improving the units.

The Board ended up voting unanimously to hold a public forum to hear from the community before moving forward on any changes at Ed Tech.

PACKED HOUSE: Teachers, staff members and members of the community showed up in force at Tuesday’s meeting, rallying on behalf of local schools. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)


Following discussion on the Ed Tech Center, the board discussed the possibility of moving middle school grades from S.W. Snowden Elementary to their own wing at Southside High School. Cheeseman said this change is less based on finances and more on academics, adding that there could be a benefit to both schools from such a change.

For S.W. Snowden, the superintendent said moving to a K-5 model could help the school shed its low-performing status, as well as retain students seeking educational opportunities elsewhere. At the high school, there could be greater collaboration between middle school and high school instructors, increasing academic opportunities for students.

SHS Principal Rick Anderson estimated the school could house 800 students, with about 400 currently enrolled, sharing a plan that would establish a middle-school wing at the school. Operating under different bell and lunch schedules, Anderson said there would be minimal contact between middle and high school students throughout the day.

Once again, the board took no action on the proposal and voted unanimously to hold a community forum in Aurora. Cheeseman stressed that the board would not be looking at a similar model for Chocowinity Middle School, while board member E.C. Peed emphasized the importance of maintaining a community school in Aurora.


At the heart of the proposed change at Ed Tech is a budgetary shortfall of more than $1 million in the BCS budget for the 2019-20 school year. After the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners approved an additional 1-cent tax increase on Monday, the school system will receive an additional $375,000 in its local budget for the coming year. The other $200,000 of that 1-cent increase will be used by the county for whatever needs it sees fit, so it potentially could be used for schools’ purposes, as well.

While the $375,000 will allow the school system to keep eight time-limited teacher assistant positions in jeopardy due to the shortfall, it still leaves an additional $600,000 the school system must address to make a balanced budget.

According to BCS Finance Director Willie Mack Carawan, the moving of Ed Tech, along with various other changes, would leave the school system with a $28,000 fund balance appropriation to balance the budget.

“Every student in Beaufort County deserves the same opportunities, and we have to make sure we can give them that,” Walker said. “We are dealing with old facilities, a lack of funding to maintain those facilities, and teachers who are afraid if we don’t have the funding, they may lose their jobs. I would love to promise you that won’t happen. But I can’t promise you that. If the money isn’t there, we have to make really tough decisions. But I don’t think any of us want to make any tough decisions without your input. So when these forums are scheduled, I encourage you to show up, ask the right questions and deal less with emotion and more with the facts that are given.”

Dates, times and locations of the community forums will be announced in the Daily News as they are scheduled.