The North Carolina School of Science and Math has been aiming to open a residential campus in western North Carolina for fall of 2021, but it could be delayed by a year due to the state budget stalemate.
As Director of Planning and Project Management for the new western campus, Kevin Baxter is currently the only full-time employee of the planned school for gifted high school juniors and seniors. Construction is underway in Morganton, and Baxter has started recruitment efforts to attract the inaugural class of high school juniors.
But the school is missing $1.2 million from the state to hire 14 more administrative employees it will need this year to be able to open on time. Baxter said the school is running out of operating funds to move forward with preparations to get the school ready for students.
"We have cut corners left and right as it relates to trying to compress the schedule," Baxter said. "But we've now reached a critical point where we need certain functions delivered, in order to deliver an experience that is comparable to what they would have on the Durham campus."
The NC School of Science and Math first opened a school in Durham in 1980 that continues to draw gifted students from across the state and has also operated a online school with advanced classes since 2008. The schools operate as part of the UNC System.
"Not a week goes by that I don't get calls from around the country or internationally, and they're marvelling at what we're building here," Baxter said. "It's just become a real rallying cry for western North Carolina, to be the first of its kind to have two schools like this."
The General Assembly appropriated $3.39 million to the NC School of Science and Math - Morganton in its 2019-2020 state budget bill. Governor Roy Cooper vetoed that bill, calling for higher pay for teachers statewide and Medicaid expansion. The General Assembly has not been able to override the veto. As the state budget remains in limbo, so do new and non-recurring funds for countless programs, including the new NC School of Science and Math.
With the General Assembly adjourned until late April, Baxter says he's no longer optimistic those funds will come through.
The UNC System has not yet announced a delayed opening. Baxter explained any delay will mean pushing back by a full calendar year, because it would be difficult to start classes in the middle of a school year.
If the school's opening is delayed, 150 students will lose the opportunity to be part of its inaugural class.
Correction: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly stated the General Assembly had appropriated $500,000 for the school in its vetoed 2019-2020 budget bill. That was the amount appropriated to the school in a previous state budget.