Beaufort County Board of Education members have more questions than answers about the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.
And in this season of budget-making, board members act as if the school district's long-running financial support for the vocational school depends on the answers.
It's good that they are asking questions. It is good that they want greater accountability for the $2.5 million Beaufort County puts into the high school in Okatie that serves two counties.
Furthermore, it is good that the full school board is poring over the ACE budget. That seems to chafe some Beaufort County school board members appointed to the ACE board, but it shouldn't. All board members have a responsibility to see that every dollar is spent wisely.
Board members question why only 53 percent of its allocation to ACE will go into the classroom, with the rest in administration. By comparison, about 70 percent of the Beaufort County School District budget goes to the classroom.
The school board asked eight questions about ACE finances, but the answers were not discussed at the May 6 meeting and a vote on the ACE budget was delayed.
The Beaufort County school board may have good reason to reduce its allocation, or get out of the joint venture altogether.
But now is the wrong time to do that.
Beaufort County needs an exit strategy if it wants to leave a school it has supported since it opened in 1977.
Disputes have been going on the whole time. Conflicts have included expenses, transportation, scheduling, curriculum, authority and management.
Governance is an issue. Beaufort County historically has paid two-thirds of the expenses and gotten two-thirds of the student slots at the school. But Jasper County has equal representation on the ACE board.
In recent years, the ACE administration has been a big problem. In 2011, for instance, the ACE board fired one employee and reprimanded for poor judgment the school's top two administrators. The director prior to the current one resigned amid an investigation of his handling of financial and personnel issues.
Also, 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.
Another problem is how to fix and upgrade the old building. State certification of some vocational programs may depend on those upgrades, school leaders told legislators last year without providing specifics on what it would cost.
The Beaufort County school board needs answers to many questions, and it should not endlessly muddle through problems with no resolution. If it wants out, it needs to get out.
But there is more to it than poking a few holes in an annual budget request at the last minute.
The Beaufort County school board needs a long-term plan to show how it would handle this important facet of public education in a different and better way.