As the Beaufort County School District expands its technical-education programs, Jasper County officials have concluded they must prepare for the demise of the vocational school jointly funded and administered by both counties.
Jasper County board members said they are committed to the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence and want the venture to continue. However, they do not think Beaufort County shares their commitment.
"We need to get ready because Beaufort County is about to pull out of ACE, I can tell you that right now," said Jasper County board member Tedd Moyd, who also serves on the ACE board. "We need to get a plan going because we will be left high and dry when they pull out from under us and we don't have a plan in place."
During Monday's Jasper County Board of Trustees meeting, Moyd cited Beaufort County's recent decision to expand its own career and tech programs over the next three years.
"They are implementing their own programs," he added, "so the writing is on the wall."
Board chairwoman Berty Riley promised that Jasper County will be prepared for any changes that come. She said she and district superintendent Vashti Washington are pursuing other options to ensure Jasper County students will still have access to vocational education, even if ACE is dissolved. Though neither Riley nor Washington offered any specifics at the meeting.
The academy was created almost 40 years ago as a partnership between the Beaufort and Jasper school districts, and offers 16 career and technology programs.
However, ACE has been in tumult in recent years -- three directors in as many years, questions over the programs' effectiveness, poor fiscal management and a deteriorating relationship among the school's board.
The Jasper County board acknowledges these problems in a position statement it approved Monday. Yet, it said such shortcomings can be addressed and that "ACE has a role to play in meeting the needs of its students."
Washington said her main concern is that changes to the school be made with ample notice.
"It's apparent to us that Beaufort County is initiating the breaking of the relationship," she said. "But in fairness to the children at ACE, they shouldn't abruptly pull the funds. There should be a process to allow both districts to come up with their plans."
Beaufort County board Chairman Bill Evans said Tuesday that is the district's intent. The Beaufort County school board is currently drafting its own position statement on the partnership with Jasper County and future of ACE.
While that statement is not complete, Evans said it will reflect the opinions of the board majority.
"There is no doubt that the majority of the board sees that as we expand our own ... programs, that will bring about a reduction with our involvement at ACE," he said.
He does not know whether that involvement will stop altogether or continue in a diminished capacity.
The Beaufort County and Jasper County school boards intend to meet in coming months to discuss how things could change.
For example, Evans said that ACE's governance needs to change and be run by only one entity -- whether that be one of the two school districts or some outside institution, such as the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Once the boards meet, they then will discuss any changes or dismantling with the counties' legislative delegations. Because the school was created as the result of legislation, Evans said the delegations would need to make any changes during the upcoming legislative session.
"I think we all realize this has come to a head and there needs to be a different governance structure at ACE," he said. "There needs to be a change."
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- Beaufort County schools to introduce tech programs over next 3 years: No decision on Academy for Career Excellence participation emerges from workshop, August 8, 2014
- ACE board doesn't cut budget despite reduced contribution from Beaufort County schools, June 27, 2014
- Academy for Career Excellence board hires law firm to look into funding cut, June 11, 2014
- School board certifies $192.9M district budget; reduces contribution to ACE, May 22, 2014
- Board's finance committee recommends rejecting ACE budget, May 13, 2014
- ACE programs not showing desired success, officials say, April 13, 2014
- Beaufort, Jasper school districts work to determine future of ACE, February 23, 2014
- Possible harassment being investigated at ACE, officer says, October 15, 2013