Early College stirs passions at Dare Board meeting

By on June 4, 2024

Ed Board Chair David Twiddy and Superintendent Steve Basnight at the June 3 meeting.

Dare Ed Board to convene special session on June 5, town meeting to follow

By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

Several meetings are now scheduled to discuss the plan for a new Dare County Early College after it became a focus of the June 3 Dare County Commissioners meeting, with voices raised in opposition and School Superintendent Steve Basnight offering an impassioned response.

The Dare County Board of Education will meet in special session on Wednesday, June 5, at noon at the Dare County Schools Administrative Office in Nags Head to discuss the Early College timeline. And at the commissioners’ June 3 meeting, Board Chair Bob Woodard announced that he will convene a community town hall-style meeting to gauge public sentiment on the issue.

According to the plan, as it now stands, in August 2025, about 50 ninth graders will constitute the inaugural class of the Dare Early College, using classrooms available on the College of Albemarle (COA) campus in Manteo. A new Early College building adjacent to the COA campus and estimated to cost between 19 and 25 million dollars, would be ready for occupancy for the 2026 school year.

Students at the Early College will receive a high school diploma upon completion of the N.C. standards for high school graduation. Beginning with their enrollment in the ninth grade, they will also be able to take college-level courses for college credit and concurrently earn high school credits for completing them.

As opposed to taking select college courses for credit, Early College students work toward an associate in arts degree, an associate in science degree, and/or a career certification before graduation. COA’s current vocational offerings include welding, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and auto mechanic/technician.

During the public comment period at the June 3 Dare Commissioners meeting, former Manteo Elementary School Vice Principal Adrienne Palma voiced opposition to the Early College, asking county officials: “Did you do your due diligence in fully researching this proposal?” Citing feedback she’s received from the community, Palma suggested the commissioners “take a pause on this, review your data and rework the budget.”

Three other speakers against Early College are candidates running for the Dare County Board of Commissioners this fall as Democrats. Dennis Zaenger said he had heard from “numerous concerned parents” about school funding needs that should take precedence over an Early College, asserting that “the opinions and views of parents, students and the community on this matter have not been properly vetted by this board of by the Dare Board of Education.”

Striking a similar note, Aida Havel said the commissioners would be “alienating the parents of Dare County” if they approved Early College funding and she urged them to “listen to the parents, and the community and have another meeting with the school board.”

For her part, Katie Morgan, said “I am deeply concerned about the lack of public input on such a significant community decision,” adding that multiple public schools in Dare County are dealing with “public health concerns” ranging from leaking water in the Cape Hatteras Secondary School to air quality in the buildings.

Early College critic Katie Morgan addresses the Dare Commissioners

Funding for the Dare County Early College was not included in the $136.2 million Fiscal Year 2024-2025 General Fund Dare County budget, which was approved by the commissioners on June 3. The estimated $21 to $23 million need for the construction of a new Early College facility, which will be financed by lottery and state funds designated for school construction, is part of a separate Dare County Capital Improvement Plan.

As County Manager Bobby Outten explained to the Voice and at the June 3 meeting, Capital Improvement plans are flexible and fluid and can be re-arranged as circumstances dictate.

The issues cited by the Early College critics during public comment generated a discussion at the June 3 meeting between the Dare Commissioners and Dare Schools Superintendent Steve Basnight, one focused largely about the conditions in Dare County Schools.

At one point, Commissioner Rob Ross asked Basnight, “Are we putting students health and safety at risk under this capital plan,” which includes Early College funding.

“No sir, we are not,” he responded, a sentiment that was echoed by Dare County Board of Education Chair David Twiddy.

During that discussion, Commissioner Ervin Bateman angrily assailed efforts to slow down or stop the Early College, declaring: “This is political. And that’s wrong.”

As a response to complaints that the public was not sufficiently involved in the Early College plan, Basnight unveiled a lengthy list and “timeline” of “who [the Early College idea] has been discussed with and when,” dating back to late 2018. He also cited about 15 news stories from various local media outlets about the Early College plan and process.

“I’m hearing nobody knew about [Early College]. I’m hearing we haven’t talked to anyone about it” Basnight said, stating that the school administration scheduled parent meetings in every community. Noting that he spent six years in Early College programs, Basnight, said “I know how it works. I’ve seen the benefit to kids.”

Then in a reference to critics, he asserted that the conversation has “ceased to be about what’s best for kids.”

Following Basnight’s remarks, Dare Board of Education Chair Twiddy cited “false information [in] the community” about the Early College and said he was convening a meeting of his board that is scheduled for June 5.

Board Chair Woodard, who at the meeting voiced support for Basnight and the Early College concept, told Twiddy that as “soon as you talk to your board…I’d like to hold a town hall meeting in Dare County as soon as possible. And let’s hear from the public about Early College.”



Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Kittyhawker

    So a third of this “time line” was during Covid – not a lot of people showing up at meetings then….
    Since the “time line” began, how many upgrades have been done to our existing schools? Katie Morgan did an excellent job highlighting things that need to be addressed immediately in our schools.
    It is so amazing the blow back that comes from these elected officials when the citizens become involved and voice opinions about projects in our community.

    Tuesday, Jun 4 @ 9:26 pm
  • Just a mom

    Sounds like a wonderful plan! If it gives more opportunities to the young people than absolutely!
    They are ready often to pick a path to college or trade to work in after graduation by 14-15. Yes, let us make learned young adults out of our high schoolers as we all had the opportunity to become with a more old day view point when we were young. Good job! Hope you print an article with all they are already doing for kids with classes available at COA for 11 and 12 th graders. And how wonderful to expand to the 9 th grade!!

    Tuesday, Jun 4 @ 9:41 pm
  • Charles

    K-12 public school boards nationwide seem to be obsessed with college and college prep. Unfortunately this has lead to minimizing and even discontinuing vocational education offerings. Good to see vocational education given at least lip service in this discussion.

    Tuesday, Jun 4 @ 10:00 pm
  • RicknKDH

    Hey Bob, sounds like a NIMBY problem huh? Heck, it’s only $21-23M for a building here while it was just $35M for housing earlier. You’re gonna sit there and tell the voters that there is no $$ for existing schools to get repaired? You’ve got to be kidding. A third grader knows to work the first problem before you go on to the next.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 8:24 am
  • OBX Resident

    Woodard and crew mismanaged workforce housing and was called out and they are now mismanaging our education and the infrastructure of the existing education buildings. A follow up article is justified investigating the concerns raised by Katie Morgan, candidate for Dare County Commissioner and the other speakers.

    Commissioner Ervin Bateman angrily assailing “This is political. And that’s wrong,” is correct in the wrong way. From the dredge deal to workforce housing and then to this educational proposal, this Board’s actions are all political and clearly not in the best interest of the people. What is wrong with more public input to ensure that the process is not being politically manipulated?

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 8:30 am
  • surf123

    Focus needs to be on getting existing schools in the best shape with the best teachers and administrators. There is no end to adults pressuring children to turn into adults at the youngest possible age and this is just another attempt. Anyone who thinks this will not be anxiety inducing for those who want to do it is crazy. I’m glad I was able to grow up at a regular pace and not be a part of the rat race until I was graduated from college.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 8:42 am
  • Jo Eure

    The money is coming from the appropriate source to fund this awesome program and is a relatively small amount for the good it will do for so many of our children and grandchildren. I’m all for it and appreciate those that worked so hard to give our kids a head start.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 9:47 am
  • Concerned

    Why spend over 20 Million on a new building? We have access to the old COA building. Why not just use that as a test? If the program works great then spend 20 million. If not we saved the money

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 10:39 am
  • Retiree

    Those in opposition should be asking how many students are already taking dual enrollment classes at the 3 high schools. There have already been graduates from FFHS who have graduated with an associates. According to staff friends, something like 60% of the kids are already taking college courses, that’s how COA is actually staying open. Most are online.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 12:44 pm
  • Early College Critic ?

    The OBX Voice provides a valuable public service for the Outer Banks. Your articles on issues of interest and the pre-screened comment section provide a good source of information. Sometimes the articles need some clarification or correction.

    The caption under the photo of Katie Morgan — “Early College critic Katie Morgan addresses the Dare Commissioners” — is clearly inaccurate.

    Katie Morgan and the other speakers who commented on the budget did not criticize the general concept of early college. This was a public hearing on the county budget, so they were commenting on budget issues. No one was saying that the idea of early college is a bad idea in general, they were commenting on the proposed costs for the early college program in the county budget

    Katie Morgan and the others were making the point that the county commissioners and the school board members, who are elected by the voters, need to have more input from the voters before they make such a big decision to spend $25 million on a new school building that would only serve about 5% of the total student population. That is a lot of money. The building would be located in Manteo but it would be intended to serve the whole county. There are a number of valid questions that need to be addressed and the voters have a right to have them addressed and provide their public comments.

    The response from Bob Woodard and the other commissioners was similar to his obnoxious response on the subsidized housing issue — If you don’t want to waste $35 million of the taxpayer’s money to build subsidized apartments that would be open to anyone from anywhere who meets the income limits, and would do more harm than good, then you are a terrible NIMBY and you do not want teachers or police officers or EMTs living in your neighborhood.

    In this case the equally obnoxious response from the commissioners was — If you question our decision to spend $25 million to build a new school building and insist that the the boards need to get more input from the voters before making such a big decision then you don’t care about the children of Dare County.

    The end result was that the county commissions and the school board grudgingly agreed to get more input from voters. They plan to hold a town hall meeting to explain their plan and give voters a chance to comment.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 4:29 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Chief, I would argue with your overly literal assessment of our caption. The meeting was not about Early College in general, it was about the plan for an Early College in Dare County. And those speakers who asked the county not to go ahead with an Early College because there has not enough public input and because there are too many other pressing school infrastructure problems are completely entitled to that view and may be in the majority, for all I know. But they are critics of the Dare Early College. The other thing I will point out is that there is a certain pattern to your posts that verges on candidate advertising. Closer to the actual elections, we will be writing stories about the candidates and races in which people can weigh in, but going forward, the Voice comments page is not going to become home to posts on one topic that quickly become candidate commercials.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 10:13 pm
  • surf123

    @Retiree. Your comment tells me Dare County has failed their students by making the curriculum so easy it does not meet the capabilities of the over 1/2 the students take college level courses. The solution is to refine and improve curriculums and offer the classes students need. Add to your point that COA is dependent on high school students to stay afloat. That too is a complete failure. Time for a complete reset if your points are correct and I am not doubting you.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 6:01 pm
  • Niccolo Donzella

    This is a great program and kudos to the officials supporting it. I recall some anguished comments in another context about the need to create reasons for young people to stay and contribute here. These marketable trade skills, combined with the broader education of an associate degree, is a great answer. It’s college with a future in the very field of study pursued. We need the skills they will learn right here, and, if they choose to answer that need, they can grow into community citizens and leaders.

    Wednesday, Jun 5 @ 6:17 pm
  • Chris Mooers

    Do the people complaining about higher education not realize that COA also trains kids in trades? The AA degree can be part of the college prep to university pipeline AND it can also be training in mechanical engineering and welding certification and medical training. Look to other counties and see how successful they are.

    Friday, Jun 7 @ 3:56 pm
  • Jack Pel

    Just one long term question……where are you going to get teachers? NC and Dare County are already at a shortage of teachers and staff qualified to be employed. Plus, salary and wages are not competitive with other states or career paths to pursue for people. Our teachers have not had an adequate raise in years!

    Everything looks good on paper, fix the issues/problems we have now and build on others after improvements have been made there. Plus, too quick after COVID set backs in our schools. It has been four years and a large number of those students have not been to a school building.

    Put kids FIRST and you will never go wrong. Let us focus on healthy relationships from the school environment……friends, teachers, staff, clubs, activities, study groups together, sports, proms, dances, pep rallies, everything the school climate and culture offers! BUILDING A NETWORK OF RELATIONSHIPS THAT WILL BE WITH THEM FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES and come back to the OBX as pride driven adults to prosper in our community, to give back to our schools as alumni and raise their families. That’s the long term goals I would love to see.

    I have seen that model of tradition and putting kids work in my hometown that was almost destroyed by money driven projects that didn’t put community first, coal industry, no jobs or health care, etc.
    NOW, are thriving after a not so pretty time and at the top of the list are our young adults and schools!

    COA does a great job bridging the college courses early, don’t take from them. If students want and have support, we have the college experience already here to offer them. The student that wants a traditional HS experience let them have theirs with no pressure to grow up too fast.

    Tuesday, Jun 11 @ 1:56 pm
  • Larry

    People fail to understand this is once again all about the money. This program gets its own funding separate from general school funding and should absolutely take advantage of it like other counties are. However keeping our schools up to date and teacher pay should also be a top priority. Just wait a few years and I’m sure we will all find out where all the Covid money actually went… No big deal ,just the biggest fraud ever.

    Friday, Jun 14 @ 11:42 am
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