Board's finance committee recommends rejecting ACE budget

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 13, 2014 

A Beaufort County Board of Education panel recommended Tuesday night that the full board not give $2.5 million to the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.

The 4-to-1 vote by the board's Finance and Operations Committee followed weeks of heated discussion about how much to contribute to ACE's budget next year and how those funds are spent.

Committee co-chairs Mary Cordray and Paul Roth joined committee members Bill Payne and Jim Beckert in favor of the recommendation to reject ACE's proposed budget. Committee member Michael Rivers was opposed and refused to comment on the vote after the meeting.

"I think this sends a very strong message to the ACE board to step up and start making a plan to address some of our concerns," Cordray said. "It doesn't mean they can't come back with a different proposal, but it sends the message that we are serious about what we have been saying for quite some time now."

In recent meetings, some school board members have voiced concerns about how ACE spends the money. They feel that too much of the roughly $3.7 million proposed ACE budget is being spent on support and administrative services and not enough in the classroom.

The Beaufort County School District contributes roughly $2.5 million to that budget each year. Jasper County schools contribute a little more than $1 million to that budget annually.

Beaufort County school board members had asked their ACE board representatives -- Rivers, Beckert and Earl Campbell -- to answer some budget-related questions, which focused primarily on two administrative positions being added next year.

Beaufort County school officials have said they would provide those services for free.

Many board members -- including Beckert, Cordray, Geri Kinton, JoAnn Orischak and board chairman Bill Evans -- have said they feel the positions are unnecessary and not an effective use of funds.

"Don't they get that we feel that these (positions) need to go?" Payne asked Tuesday night. "Don't they understand that their budget is in jeopardy of approval over issues like this?"

The committee's recommendation will go to the full board for discussion at its meeting next Tuesday. If it approves the recommendation, the board would then need to arrange a meeting with the Jasper County Board of Education, Beaufort County superintendent Jeff Moss said.

That meeting will focus on the ACE budget and decide what each district's funding level should be, according to legislation that created the vocational school in 1977.

Jasper County board chairwoman Berty Riley and superintendent Vashti Washington did not express the concerns raised by Beaufort County at a meeting with Cordray and Moss, Cordray said.

Attempts to reach Riley and Washington on Tuesday evening were unsuccessful.

The Beaufort County school board hopes to certify its budget at its May 20 meeting before it's presented to Beaufort County Council for final approval.

"I don't know if we can move forward (with the ACE budget) based on what's in front of us," Orischak said. "But I would like to see them meet us halfway, coming to us with some modifications of the budget based on the concerns we've expressed."

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

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