From the Chancellor: Legislative Update

By J. Todd Roberts, NCSSM Chancellor

The 2015 session of the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned earlier this week after finalizing budget, policy, and bond referendum legislation. In all, NCSSM fared well during this session. Legislators supported our long-term strategic direction as well as our near-term budget and policy agendas.

Funding. Highlights of the approved state budget for NCSSM include: increased funding for distance education enrollment, $4 million in capital funding for technology infrastructure upgrades and other facility repair and renovation priorities, increased salaries for all teachers statewide, and one-time bonuses for allstate employees. We fell short of having our students, as well as high school students attending UNC-School of the Arts, included in a program that pays AP testing fees for NC public high school students enrolled in AP classes. NCSSM students who take AP exams during this academic year remain responsible for test costs. We’ll introduce this item again in the 2016 session in an effort to ensure that our students are treated equitably with other NC public high school students.

Policy: Seats added to Board of Trustees. From a policy perspective, we received legislative approval to add our Student Government Association President to our Board of Trustees. We also received approval to add up to two additional ex-officio, non-voting members — likely to be the chairs of our faculty senate and staff council. This legislation reflects our commitment to include our school community in helping to lead and support the success of NCSSM. Among many others who helped advance this legislation, we are especially grateful to Jonathan Jordan ’86 for drafting and introducing this legislation as a primary sponsor.

Bond proposal would expand NCSSM. As you may have heard, a major outcome of the legislative session was the development of a bond proposal to be placed before North Carolina citizens in a referendum on March 15, 2016.  This $2 billion bond proposal contains a substantial $980 million investment in the University of North Carolina system. Included in the proposed UNC funding is $58 million to establish a second campus of NCSSM in Burke County.

To offer some context for this bond project, as the state has grown in the last decade and a half, discussions about the need for expansion have grown more serious. These discussions were a driving factor behind the establishment of our very selective online program, which was founded in 2007 and now serves more than 250 part-time students. In 2008, NCSSM completed a campus master plan to accommodate an increased enrollment of approximately 200 students as well as address our capital infrastructure needs. Due to the recession, most of the plan was indefinitely delayed with the exception of a new addition to Reynolds, which would provide beds for approximately 70 students as well as additional instructional space. This $7.4 million project has been a capital funding priority of the UNC Board of Governors since 2010.

In 2014 the General Assembly asked NCSSM along with UNC General Administration and the state’s Department of Public Instruction to study the feasibility of opening a second NCSSM campus in western North Carolina, on the state-owned site in Morganton that currently includes the School for the Deaf. The expansion was proposed as an effort to serve the many qualified students who each year are denied admission to NCSSM. That study examined the feasibility of serving additional qualified applicants on an additional campus in Morganton and also offered the options of an additional campus in Kannapolis and expanding the Durham campus. The study quantified that, each year, approximately 150 qualified students are denied admission to NCSSM due simply to space constraints.

By inclusion in the 2016 bond referendum, the General Assembly chose Morganton as the expansion location. We appreciate that legislators recognize the need to serve more talented students across the state. Our goal, if the referendum is approved, is to ensure that we hold true to the core values and experiences of NCSSM as we collaborate with legislators in planning a new school. We embrace the opportunities that a second campus presents. As a community — with legislators, regional stakeholders, and education leaders — we can consider how best to design STEM education for the next generation of North Carolinians. It’s much like the opportunity our founders were given to shape an experimental residential high school in the late 1970s, when the General Assembly established the School and chose Watts Hospital in Durham as the site.

Ultimately, the decision to build a second NCSSM campus is up to the citizens of North Carolina, who will vote yes or no for the $2 billion bond referendum on March 15.  If voters approve the bond package, an extensive and inclusive planning process would begin, involving legislative leaders and other elected officials along with our Faculty Senate, Staff Council, Board of Trustees, Foundation Board of Directors, Alumni Association Directors, Student Government Association, UNC Board of Governors, and others.

In the meantime, I’d like to open a dialogue with you, our NCSSM community. As our school’s closest friends and constituents, you can help us shape the forthcoming planning process by sharing your ideas, questions and concerns here. We’ll use your input feedback to helpestablish a frequently asked questions (FAQ) resource for the community in the near-term and to inform the planning process for the longer term.

We have much to be grateful for in the final analysis of the legislative session. The $4 million approved for NCSSM’s capital needs is our first capital investment in over a decade. We look forward to beginning much needed improvements to our technology infrastructure and learning spaces as early as this summer.  The proposed second campus offers a mix of questions and opportunity. I believe that, at its core, the proposal is a testament to how strongly state leaders value our school and our mission of educating talented students across the state.  

Thank you for continuing to be concerned and thoughtful members of the NCSSM community. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Todd Roberts