Gateway parents won another battle on Tuesday evening after the Guilford County school board voted to use CTE funds to make repairs to Gateway Education Center.
After a marathon meeting on Tuesday evening that lasted more than four hours, the Guilford County school board passed a motion 7-2 to fund repairs for the Gateway Education Center, a school for students with significant disabilities, using funds originally set aside for new career and technical education academies.
The move comes just weeks after parents of Gateway students rallied and spoke out against a proposal to close the school when the district found issues such as water leaks, pest control, raw sewage and more. The funding for Gateway repairs, which includes fixing the roof and windows, would cost about $1.9 million according to a recent inspection and would be taken from the $7.1 million that had been set aside to create six new career and technical education, or CTE, programs in schools like Smith High School and Western Guilford High School.
The substitute motion, which was made by at-large board member Winston McGregor, would use whatever funds remained from repairing Gateway to pay for whichever CTE academies the board prioritizes before or during its May 14 meeting. The board will then send their prioritizations to the county commissioners who are scheduled meet on May 16. Everyone except for board Chair Deena Hayes and Vice Chair Dianne Bellamy-Small voted to pass the motion to repair Gateway using some of the $7.1 million.
Last month, the Guilford County Commission voted to delay the passage of funding for the six new CTE programs after Gateway parents pleaded with them to fix their schools.
On Tuesday evening, dozens of parents — many of whom spoke out during the April 18 county commission meeting and at several school board meetings leading up the latest one — took to the stand once again to voice their concerns about the future of Gateway.
“Gateway is our normal,” said Stephanie Garrett, whose daughter has gone to the specialized school for the past 11 years. “It is our routine and it is our community.”
More than half of the room was filled with rows of seated parents and advocates for Gateway. Still, others who spoke during the public comment periods asked for the board to keep the initial funding that had been set aside for the proposed CTE programs at Smith High School, Southeast Guilford High School, Kearns Academy, Northeast Guilford High School and Western Guilford High School.
“Career technical education, or CTE, provides students with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and prepares them for the workforce directly out of high school,” said William Levette, a father with a son who is a freshman at Smith High School. “We all know that every kid isn’t going to go to college and this program gives those young men and women the tools to compete in the 21st Century.”
According to a district press release sent out on Feb. 28, the CTE programs were scheduled to launch during the 2019-20 school year beginning with ninth graders. Now, with the school board voting to divert some of the money to Gateway, it is unclear which or when the six programs will launch.
Julius Monk, the executive director of school facilities, said the county would need the funding now to get started on designing, building and repairing infrastructure to make many of the CTE programs possible for 2020.
“Even doing all of this within a year is gonna be really aggressive,” Monk said during Tuesday’s meeting. “But every month that we’re not doing something at these sites is gonna make it more challenging.”
School board member Byron Gladden, who represents District 7, asked Superintendent Sharon Contreras and his fellow board members multiple times over the course of the evening to support his plan to use projected remaining funds from repairs at High Point Central High School and Western Guilford Middle School, as well as money from the general maintenance fund, to repair Gateway.
“There’s an opportunity for us to have both,” Gladden said. “This is not going a conventional route.”
Angie Henry, chief financial officer for Guilford County Schools, pushed back on Gladden’s plan.
“I think the best thing to do would be to identify the projects that you want to be sure that you open as scheduled,” Henry said. “I think you need to prioritize how you want to spend the $7.1 million. I don’t think you can start talking about how you want to spend the additional $2 million at this point until you know for sure it’s available.”
Board member Pat Tillman, who represents District 3, said that if he had to pick from the proposed CTE academies, he would prioritize the Academy at Smith High School and then Western Guilford High School based on applicant numbers and the fact that Western currently has successful CTE programs.
Bellamy-Small, who represents District 1, opposed Tillman’s prioritization, saying that High Point schools would be getting shortchanged in that order.
“This is problematic,” Bellamy-Small said. “You cannot leave High Point out… This is not a good process and I can’t agree to this process….”
In addition to parents of Gateway students, parents of students at Page High School and Hampton Elementary also spoke out during Tuesday’s meeting. Several parents advocated for funds to renovate Page’s cafeteria to accommodate more students while a few Hampton parents advocated for keeping the elementary school open. Superintendent Contreras made the recommendation earlier this month to close the school based on the limited number of students that said they would be returning after they were relocated in the aftermath of the April 2018 tornado.
As the dozens of parents listened to the board members deliberate on what to do about Gateway and CTE funding, a few shouted angrily at the members to do their jobs and almost got escorted out of the room.
Earlier in the evening, Hayes had explained that figuring out which schools to fund was complicated.
“This is a multipronged problem,” she said.
Lakeisha Williams, a mother with a child at Gateway as well as those in high school who would benefit from CTE programs, spoke passionately during one of the public comment periods, urging parents to remain patient and work with, not against the board, to come to a solution.
“We can no longer allow anyone to make this be a fight against the board and the parents, or white and black, rich and poor,” said Williams as she teared up. “We’re all in this together for our kids…. We can’t move forward with division…. We can’t be divided. We can’t get anywhere with that…. Can we just work together? Can we just work together and be on the same team?”