As I write this column, I am both excited and hesitant over the prospects of the 1998-99 academic school year. Why am I thinking about the new school year already? Well for one thing, the addition to the Center should be well on its way. Although I am excited about it, I am also at the point where I am worried. We should be finalizing our architectural plans over the next two weeks. Just the word final makes me nervous. That means we can't make any more changes. Therefore when I sign on the dotted line, we will be locked into a design for a building that will be our "home" until I retire (which will be in the next millennium unless I win the lottery!). That is a scary prospect because things are changing so rapidly, especially when looking at the technological aspects of the building. However we are trying to keep the building design as flexible as possible so that we can continue to meet your needs into the next century.
The other exciting part (actually all of the building parts are exciting) (also read exciting in this case to mean we don't really know what we are doing) of the building is the live butterfly exhibit gallery we have planned. When you walk into the new building we plan for live butterflies (and possibly other critters) to greet you. Although butterfly houses are now common, most are modified greenhouses and are essentially external. Ours will be one of the few that is totally indoors (actually there is only one other indoor one that I know of in the United States and that one is a greenhouse built indoors). We hope we won't have to build an indoor greenhouse to make it work.....as I said, it is exciting.
September will bring about another change for the Center. On August 31, the South Carolina Statewide Systemic Initiative funding from the National Science Foundation ends. As I mentioned in December's Jeff's Corner, the SC SSI community was working hard on a years 6-10 proposal. Because of the Herculean efforts of Marc Drews, Andrea Keim and Dori Helms, the state has submitted a $6 m proposal to NSF for years 6-10. Most of this money would go to schools for professional development in science, mathematics and technology. This proposal was sent on the assumption that the Hubs would be fully funded through state funds next year.
In October, Dr. Nielson submitted the Department of Education's budget to the Governor's office. In her budget she included $1.8 million in recurring funds and an additional $2.2 million to bring the SC SSI funding up to full level. This $4 million would fully fund each of the 13 Hubs established as part of the SC SSI. Unfortunately the Governor left the Hubs out of his budget entirely, including the $1.8 million. In addition to the lack of funding, Senate Bill 850 had the Hubs devolved (my new word for the year), and 7 regional centers taking their place, yet taking on all subject areas.
Once we found this out we began working with our local advisory boards, local legislators and local teachers to get the money for the SC SSI back into the budget as well as assuring that the Hubs would still be in existence. As of today (March 23), with the help of many educators from throughout the state making telephone calls and writing letters to legislators, the House voted to put $3.3 million back in the budget for the Hubs. Although this is not the $4 million needed to continue all present programs, it should be enough to keep the current hub staff intact.
On the Senate side, because of the out pouring of support from educators from throughout the state, Bill 850 has removed the word devolved and has increased the number of regional centers to 13. We are now waiting to see what the Senate does with the budget. Once the Senate decides on the budget there will be a joint House and Senate Committee that will be appointed to iron out differences between the Accountability Bills (this is where the Hub fate lies) and the budgets. Once it makes it through the joint committee it will go to both the House and Senate floors for final approval and them to the Governor's office for his signature. We feel confident that with the outpouring of support from educators from throughout the state, the money will be made available for the Hubs.
The ramifications of the Hubs not existing next year could have a long term negative impact on the state. The main concern is future funding for the state from the National Science Foundation and other government agencies. When the state received the SC SSI grant from NSF in 1993, they entered an agreement which stipulated that the state would support the 13 Hubs once NSF funding ended. The omission from the Governor's Budget and the possibility of devolving of the Hubs puts this agreement in jeopardy. If this agreement is not fulfilled, it would make it virtually impossible for the state to receive future funding from NSF as well as other governmental agencies. Hopefully, with the continued support of educators such as yourself, this will not come to fruition.
As you can see, next year will be an exciting one. Obviously if funding for the SC SSI falls through, we will not be able to provide the services to the schools that we have been able to the past 5 years. However, we will continue to do our best in raising the funds necessary to provide the support you deserve. Again, thanks goes to all of you who have written letters and called your local legislators, particularly Dr. Linda Eldridge and Mr. Scott Hunter, in support of the Hubs. Hopefully by the time you receive this newsletter, all of this will be old news (and hopefully happy news!).
Since this is the last Newsletter until the next academic school year, I hope the remainder of your school year is productive and that you have a happy, peaceful, restful, exciting, and rejuvenating summer. As always, please drop us a line or stop by and say hello. We'd love to hear from you. Look for us again in August!