After the Macon County School system released a list of proposed budget cuts to account for a $2 million shortfall in next year's budget, Macon Early College students discovered that their school funding was among the $1,950,393 in possible cutbacks.
Macon Early College (MEC) is one of two schools in the district that are being considered for possible closing in order to save the school system money. According to interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan, while MEC receives state funds to operate because it is considered an early college, after outside grants and state funds, Macon County pays an additional $100,000 to keep the school operating.
MEC offers students the unique opportunity to pursue a free college education, while completing their high school requirements. MEC opened in 2006, and originally housed 50 students. Macon Early College is a public high school which is fully integrated into the Southwestern Community College system, with 157 students enrolled today. This partnership is an ongoing collaborative team of college and high school personnel, shared resources and calendars which has aided in the development of an environment aimed at college-readiness, the working world and beyond.
When students heard of the possibility that their school might be closed because of budget cuts, they sprung into action.
Emily Ritter, a third-year student (the equivalent of a high school junior) at Macon Early College was in disbelief when she heard her school may be closed.
“When I had heard the news about MEC being on the chopping block, of course I was upset,” said Ritter. “This school has been like my second home for the past three years, and I have seen what this program has done, not only for me, but for all of the other amazing students that go here. It has given countless opportunities to kids who otherwise would not have gone to college, and the teachers and staff are able to provide attention and extra help to students, while still giving them freedom to be creative and stand out.”
Because of the recession and budget cuts across all levels of government, Ritter said she and her classmates were not surprised to learn of the cuts.
“Most of us at MEC were not all that surprised by these cuts because for the past couple of years, these proposed cuts have included Macon Early College; however, that threat that never really occurred,” she said. “This time there is more of a sense of urgency and financial struggle.”
Ritter, who is an active member of the school’s Student Council and anti-bullying club, has been taking college classes at Southwestern Community College since her freshman year and is on track to graduate next year (Spring 2014) with her high school diploma and Associates in Arts degree from SCC. If MEC was to be closed, Ritter, along with other students would be shuffled into exsiting schools in the district and would stand to lose the college credits they have been working toward.
“With all of that in mind, I was just sitting down to look at some of the stuff that the kids had been posting on Facebook about the school closing, and I just thought, what can I do? Thinking back to my civics classes, I thought about how many other people had made a difference, and I got the idea for the petition,” said Ritter. “It was amazing! Within the first hour, we had almost one-hundred signatures. That night, at my last count, we had over 330 signatures, and we are still growing. The students have been concerned; they keep sharing the link and sending it to their friends and family. It’s just wonderful to see all of the support for our school.”
With an initial goal of reaching 50 signatures, Ritter's position caught on and has garnered support from nearly 600 members in the community as of Wednesday. Ritter's petition states “As a student of Macon Early College, I know how much of a difference this school has made, not only to me, but to several other people who would not have had an opportunity like this. Our education should be top priority for the School Board, so why do they want to cut an important program like this? Please sign by March 15th! Pass it on!”
Understanding that the school system is in financial trouble, Ritter stated that she believes that cuts are necessary to continuing operating, but the types of cuts being proposed are simply the worng ones. “At this time, I think they are trying to cut all the wrong programs. Both MEC and Union are schools of importance that strive to meet the individual learning needs of the students,” she said. “So many people are pitting school against school, when the truth is that we all deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education whether that be at FHS, MEC, or Union Academy, or any other school in Macon County.”
In addition to signing the petition, which can found online at http://signon.org/sign/school-board-dont-cut, members of the community left comments of support for MEC. “To tell the truth, I really did not expect quite the response that I got,” said Ritter. “I really only expected people to sign the petition, but many have added comments. These comments are truly a testimony to the purpose of MEC; they illustrate the true benefit of keeping our school open.”
One comment left on the petition stated MEC was her child's only option for higher education. “I believe if it wasn't for Macon Early College my child probably wouldn't get the opportunity to get an associates degree,” wrote Sandra Dendy. “Please keep the school open!!”
Others took the opportunity to comment on the petition to argue the importance of education in general. “The one thing that costs more than education right now is a lack of it in the future,” wrote Byron McClure.
"I would much prefer to have an increase in property taxes rather than cuts to something so important as our children's education," wrote Stephanie Laseter. "I am 36. My elementary and high school education was paid for by tax dollars of those who went before me. I hope we can do the same for today's children. Cuts to education, scientific research and our state's infrastructure do nothing to create a progressive and forward moving country or economy."
After the March 15 deadline, Ritter plans to deliver the petition to Macon County School Board, Sen. Jim Davis (NC-50), The North Carolina State House, The North Carolina State Senate, Gov. Pat McCrory, The U.S. House of Representatives, The U.S. Senate, and President Barack Obama to bring awareness to the budget cuts.