Beaufort County school officials say they are now committed to supporting Beaufort-Jasper ACE through 2016-2017 -- a full year longer than they have previously said.
The decision, reached during a Friday work session of the Beaufort County Board of Education, would mean the school board would continue governing and providing two-thirds of funding for the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence, with Jasper County paying the rest, through June 30, 2017. At that point, the career and technology school would close.
Jasper County's school board meets Monday to discuss the proposal and likely hold a vote of its own.
While Beaufort County's plan is pricier than paying ACE a per-pupil fee, school board members said Friday they are willing to swallow that cost to ensure the school has enough money to stay open. If Jasper County were to cut certain programs, such as barbering and cosmetology, some Beaufort County students would be left with no options to finish their education.
"If we have one student in a program, and we're paying a per-pupil fee, that's not going to pay the instructor's salary," board chair Mary Cordray said. "If we're making a commitment to teach out those programs, then we're making a commitment to teach out those programs."
The board also agreed it would like to immediately begin negotiations with Jasper County to determine whether one county wishes to buy the ACE property and facilities. If not, the boards must find an interested third-party buyer, such as the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
The Beaufort board's decision Friday strayed only slightly from a recommendation presented on Monday by a joint transition team, which proposed Beaufort County withdraw from the technical school's governance at the end of this year.
Instead, Beaufort's school board members agreed they should continue contributing two thirds of the budget of ACE, though it should be greatly reduced for its final year and students would only be allowed to begin programs that they could complete in Beaufort County schools. Cost estimates were not discussed at Friday's meeting.
The transition team had based its report on a timeline repeated often by Beaufort school board members over the past year. Board members said Monday night, however, that the timeline was never set in stone, confusing and upsetting to some Jasper County school board members.
Those frustrations seeped into Friday's discussion, in which Cordray cautioned board members against speaking for Jasper County students.
Board member Bill Payne had tried to do just that, stating that he was concerned what the certain closing of ACE in 2017 would mean for students across county lines who do not yet have career- and technical-education programs in Jasper County schools.
Cordray responded, "it was suggested to me that I need to explain to our board that the Jasper (board members) appreciate our concern, but that when we start to mind their business they get mad, and they feel we're trying to mind their business."
Before the discussion, JoAnn Orischak also questioned whether any board members should recuse themselves, which Evva Anderson said was directed at her. Anderson's husband works at ACE, though she said that was not a good reason for her to sit out of talks of the school's future.
Earl Campbell agreed.
Still, Anderson was one of only three people who voted against the plan and her comments centered on the negative consequences ACE employees are experiencing due to delays in the two boards reaching a decision about the school's future.
"They don't know when they're going to have a job. I think it's very unfair the amount of stress they put on employees, the amount of misinformation that's going on in the media, so I think we need to be mindful of that and try to make a decision very quickly," Anderson said.
"It's not necessarily the threat it'll be closed," she said. "It's the lack of any definitive answer coming forward."
Anderson was joined in voting against the recommendation by Campbell and Michael Rivers.
After the meeting, he said he was not ready to concede that ACE should close.
"I think leaving ACE is premature," Rivers said. "I would prefer us try to work things out because I think some kids are going to lose out in the long run."
Contacting the board
Do you want your voice heard? Here's how to contact Beaufort County School District board members:
Mary Cordray, District 8 - Bluffton
(843) 681-9838 - Home
(803) 312-1196 - Cell
Laura Bush, District 9 - Bluffton
Evva Anderson, District 7 - Pritchardville
Joseph Dunkle, District 4 - Port Royal
Earl Campbell, District 1 - Gray's Hill, Lobeco
(843) 846-4531 - Home
(843) 476-7512 - Cell
Geri Kinton, District 5 - Okatie, Beaufort
JoAnn Orischak, District 11 - southern Hilton Head Island
Michael Rivers, District 3 - St. Helena Island
(843) 263-8467 - Cell
Paul Roth, District 6 - Okatie
Bill Payne, District 10 - northern Hilton Head Island
(843) 682-3285 - Home
(310) 600-0873 - Cell
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Recommendation for ACE's future prompts tension, confusion among boards, November 2, 2015
- TCL hopes to take over financially strapped Beaufort-Jasper ACE, September 9, 2015
- Beaufort County school board stresses support for ACE at special meeting, October 5, 2015