COLUMBIA — A public residential high school that aims to foster South Carolina’s future technological leaders is boosting enrollment this fall after years of planning and construction. But filling the available slots depends on whether legislators override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto.
Haley vetoed $3.4 million designated to the state’s special schools for students who are academically and artistically talented and, on the other end, schools for troubled teens at risk of dropping out. The schools receive no local taxes. The Republican governor said she wants to evaluate their roles before giving them any more money.
“All of these are good things, but if we’re going to lead and take South Carolina to a new place, we’ve got to take the emotion out of it,” she said Friday. “How can we handle these things smarter? To do that sometimes hurts, and to do that sometimes means we wait but we make good decisions in the end.”
Those vetoes are among her 81 that strike a total of $67.5 million from the Legislature’s combined $6.8 billion spending plans. The House returns to Columbia on Tuesday to take up the vetoes. Overrides require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, which returns Wednesday.
Other vetoes met with outrage by many legislators and activists include $2.4 million that eliminates the Arts Commission, which is now closed; $454,000 for rape crisis centers; and $100,000 for sickle-cell patients.
Haley contends that the arts should be privately funded and that the state shouldn’t dole out money to nonprofits to provide health care services. But Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, said the state lacks the resources to provide services directly to patients.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said he will lead the charge on overriding the school vetoes, calling the $1.2 million veto for additional teachers at the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics especially short-sighted.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me unless there’s not a need, and that’s not the case. The need is much greater than the capacity. To not be at capacity doesn’t make sense,” said Bingham, R-Cayce.
A two-phase construction project to expand the tuition-free school in Hartsville was completed in 2010, but adding students amid slashed state funding was impossible. Help from the school’s hundreds of business supporters statewide allowed it to keep educating 128 students, its enrollment since its 1988 founding.
With an improving economy adding $1.2 billion to state coffers in 2012-13, legislators gave an additional $3.1 million to the science school so it could accept the 300 students the dorms and laboratories can hold.
“I consider this increase excessive and believe that we can support the GSSM in a more fiscally responsible manner,” Haley wrote in her veto message. If the veto stands, 216 students will attend this fall.
Bingham counters legislators are allowing the school to finally educate the number of students envisioned when construction began in 2003. He considers the school, rated among the nation’s top public high schools, a jewel for the state.
“It’s ludicrous. … It’s non-debatable,” Bingham said. He expects an override.
If not, the school will just grow more slowly, said school president Murray Brockman.
“I admire the governor’s dedication to reducing costs. We’ve always been very frugal,” he said. “We’re not going to waste your time or money.”
He noted private donors funded the school’s Institute for Economics and Finance, launched in 2010. Private funding also jumpstarted the school’s statewide engineering program, in which teens across the state will be able to finish their first year of college-level engineering courses in high school. The school has partnered with the University of South Carolina, Clemson, The Citadel and South Carolina State.
Haley also vetoed $1.25 million for construction at the Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities in Greenville, calling the amount excessive for a high school with 242 residential juniors and seniors.
The money would build a 4,000-square-foot admissions office at the campus entrance, which will free up space elsewhere to expand the school’s visual arts program, to add animation, plus provide a third dance studio and a costume shop, said president Bruce Halverson.
“It will relieve significant problems,” he said.
He also noted the school is returning to full enrollment after two years under capacity because of budget cuts. The low point was 202 students. Even after this year’s boost, to $6.8 million, the school’s receiving $500,000 less than it did five years ago, he said.
As for its enrollment, he said, the governor may not recognize that the school, rated in the nation’s top 1 percent, also holds summer programs for more than 400 students entering seventh through 10th grades.
“The bottom line is, the arts are critically important to society,” Brockman said.
The state’s special schools for at-risk teens are Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School in West Columbia and John de la Howe School in rural McCormick.
Haley vetoed $200,000 for technology upgrades at John de la Howe, a school for students ages 12 to 17, noting the budget already provides $400,000 for significant maintenance needs for seven cottages.
She also vetoed $750,000 to replace inefficient, 47-year-old windows at Wil Lou Gray, a military-style program for 16- to 18-year-olds with only a few high school credits, who read at an elementary level. With a diploma not a realistic option for these teens, the school’s 14-week sessions aim to help students earn a GED.
“We provide the structure and discipline they’ve lacked to cause them to drop out of public school,” said director Pat Smith.
Last school year, 824 students applied; 343 were admitted. During the deep budget cuts – funding was $2.5 million in 2010-11 – enrollment got as low as 238 students.
Additional state funding this year, to $4.8 million, will allow the school to reopen a fourth dorm. Smith expects to accept more than 400 this year.
The school, built in 1965, has 600 windows, most of them 10 feet tall.
Without the replacement money, “we’ll just do the best we can. Obviously, it’s not the most energy-efficient method of managing your buildings,” Smith said.
In her veto message, Haley suggested the school pay for the windows through “performance contracting,” financing them with the estimated energy savings. But Smith said that’s for multi-million-dollar projects in which the savings can be recouped over a shorter amount of time.