Beaufort County board wants questions about ACE budget answered

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 16, 2014 

As the Beaufort County School District prepares a draft of its next budget, the board is trying to decide how much it should contribute to the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.

And for how long.

The school board discussed ACE's budget at its regular meeting Tuesday night but made no decision. Board members say they have questions that must be answered first.

"I still have never gotten an explanation to some of my questions," board member Geri Kinton said during the meeting. "Like, why is there the need to add a (human resources) position? ... . Can't (that) be done through existing staff in Beaufort or Jasper county?"

Board member JoAnn Orischak also expressed concerns about the disparity between money spent in the classroom and money spent on support services, such as administrative positions, legal costs and maintenance.

Of the roughly $2.5 million Beaufort County gives to ACE annually -- and is being asked to contribute again this year -- about 53 percent will go to instruction while 47 percent will pay for support services.

"It seems like there is a fairly even divide and that not enough is going into the classroom," she said. "What is a good split between those two if you want to build an effective classroom?"

County schools superintendent Jeff Moss said the district spends a little more than 70 percent of its budget in the classroom and is looking to put even more resources toward instruction.

While board members said they value career and technical education -- CATE in educators' shorthand -- they wonder if the ACE program would be more successful if its $3.7-million budget was better managed. Jasper County schools pays a little more than $1 million of that annually.

In the past several years, only about one of every four Beaufort County students who completed ACE's program landed a job in a field related to their studies, according to statistics provided by the district.

Some board members wonder if the money they provide would be better invested in the county schools' expanding vocational education programs.

Many of those programs, however, will not be in place until the 2015-16 school year. Board members said they want students to have access to CATE programs next year.

"If you don't want to approve the budget, then say so," said board member Earl Campbell, who also serves on the ACE board. "We can approve the budget and go through this year and then pull out next year if that's what this board wants to do, but to bicker back and forth does not help anything."

There are several savings in next year's budget, including doing away with one of the school's two assistant director positions, ACE and school board member Michael Rivers said.

Board member Bill Payne said he thinks the ACE budget is becoming leaner and more effective.

"It seems like there will be more of an effort to keep the budget at ACE in line this year so we can maximize the two-thirds of the budget we are putting in there," he said.

The board has compiled a list of questions that its ACE board representatives will pose to the school's director.

Board chairman Bill Evans has asked that those questions be answered by the board's May 6 meeting so it can decide whether to approve the ACE budget.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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