No law firm needed to fix ACE partnership

It's obvious that the Beaufort County School District does not believe that the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence is serving its students well. * School board members have said that too few Beaufort County students who attend the career and technology school finish with national certification and get jobs within their chosen fields.

*They have raised red flags about the fact that only half of the district's financial contribution goes to instruction. The rest goes to administrative costs.

* And they recently voted to cut their annual contribution to ACE from $2.3 million to $2.1 million.

Several members have flat out said it may be best to drop out of the partnership and expand career and technical education at its own high schools instead -- a move we have endorsed. Such an expansion is already underway and will offer many of the same programs currently available at ACE.

That's why we're baffled that two Beaufort County school board members, Earl Campbell and Michael Rivers, who represent the school district on the ACE board, have voted to hire a law firm to presumably determine whether the Beaufort County School District can legally reduce its financial contribution to ACE. (A third school board member, Jim Beckert, voted against hiring the firm, Boykin & Davis of Columbia.)

Their support of hiring a law firm undermines the wishes of the majority of the school board on which they serve. And it will likely mean new legal costs for their school district, which will have to respond to questions raised by the newly hired attorneys and defend the school board's decision. These additional legal costs will come at a time when the district is struggling to figure out how to cut $2.5 million from its new budget that takes effect July 1 -- a cut that, ironically, might mean less money for the expansion of the district's career and technology programming.

Campbell, Rivers and the Jasper County school board members who supported the law firm's hiring say the move is necessary so they have a clear understanding of what each school district is obligated to do.

We doubt hiring a law firm will bring any such clarity. It's more likely to result in different legal interpretations of what the 1977 state legislation that created the partnership requires of the two participating districts and more bickering as Jasper County desperately tries to hang onto Beaufort County's dollars.

Meanwhile, ACE completion rates will likely remain low, and many Beaufort County students will continue receiving a subpar technical education.

We urge ACE board members -- whether they hail from Beaufort County or Jasper County -- to let Beaufort County act in the best interest of its students. If that means an exit from this partnership that is not yielding results, so be it.

Legal wrangling won't solve this issue. It will only prolong the inevitable.