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Shaw University Cadet program ended abruptly

WINDSOR – The Shaw University Cadet Program has been tentatively eliminated by the Bertie County Board of Education.

Several of the Cadets told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald they received telephone calls Wednesday informing them of the end of the program just weeks before they were set to return to work.

The Shaw Cadet program was designed to allow Bertie County Schools to “grow” it’s on teachers. Those in the program had their tuition and books paid for at Shaw while working fulltime as teacher assistants for the school district. In exchange, the students agreed to teach for five years in Bertie County after graduation.

“I was devastated,” said Chelsea Dunlow, who had been in the program for a year. “That is my job, my livelihood, my schooling, everything. I was promised all of these things and now I’m standing here with no job or schooling.”

Board of Education Chair Gloria Lee said, however, the school board had no choice but to halt the program, at least temporarily.

“We support the program, but we don’t have the funding,” Lee said. “If something was to change and we could financially support it, we could bring it back easier than going the way we are now.”

The cutting of the cadet program came just days after the board was informed of major budgeting shortfalls for last year and, possibly, the coming year. (See story this page.)

The board chair insisted, however, that other avenues of funding would be sought.

“We’re looking at all other avenues,” she said. “The problem is right now we are dealing with the financial situation. We are heading into our meeting Tuesday trying to be optimistic that the financial condition of the school system isn’t as bad as we think it is.”

The timing of the decision, however, was upsetting to the Shaw Cadets.

“I know they have things going on, but if you’re a Bertie County Schools employee, you’re expecting to go to work soon,” said Cadet Doug Jernigan. “Right now I’m out looking for a job.”

Two other cadets who spoke to the News-Herald – Kaitlyn Dunlow and Kendral Rascoe – said they were shocked when they received the information.

“I just wish if they were going to stop the program, it would have happened in May,” Kaitlyn Dunlow said. “If it had happened in May, it would have given us an opportunity to apply to other schools.”

Rascoe agreed.

“I feel like it is wrong,” she said. “They are not only taking away our job, but our education and that’s something they promised us. They are reneging on a promise.”

All four of the cadets who spoke to the News-Herald said they originally signed up for the program because they love Bertie County.

“I never wanted to go off somewhere,” Chelsea Dunlow said. “This is where I’m going to be. I wanted to be in the program because I could stay here and do something with my life.

“I thought I could give something back to my community, even if it was a little at the time,” she said. “We were told that we would better the community and now I feel like they turned their backs on us and left us with nothing.”

Jernigan said he loved teaching and coaching and had enjoyed the program.

“I was disappointed, but I love Bertie County Schools,” he said. “I love the kids at the school. I just feel like the rug got pulled out underneath me.”

“I had my whole life planned out,” Kaitlyn Dunlow said. “I was going to spend four years in college and then five teaching in Bertie County Schools. Now, basically, I have nothing. I’m starting over from scratch.”

Rascoe said she joined the program because it was a good trade off.

“I wanted to be a teacher and I felt it was a great opportunity since I was being paid and my education was free,” she said. “They paid for my education, so I could pay them back through my service as a teacher. I felt like it was a good deal.”

The cadets said they were not able to transfer to another college or university because of the timing of the program’s end and that they had been removed from enrollment at Shaw because of the decision. They were told through a Shaw University counselor if they wanted to re-enroll, they had to contact the university and do so on an individual basis.

The Bertie County Board of Education suspended Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chip Zullinger with pay on July 16. In a letter from Board Attorney Rod Malone, Dr. Zullinger was told that “cause may exist for your removal as Superintendent.”

Since that time, the board has heard a financial update on the district revealing that nearly 88 percent of the district’s fund balance had been used to balance the 2009-10 academic year budget.

The board is slated to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss school district contracts and to work through other financial matters.