Originally created 01/14/02

Schools for gifted face budget cuts



COLUMBIA - Supporters of the governor's schools for gifted children say the school's programs and quality could be affected by increased budget cuts.

The Hartsville-based Governor's School for Science and Mathematics and the Greenville-based Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, which are mostly state-supported, already have faced cuts.

The Greenville school laid off security guards, and the finance officer has begun driving a school bus. The Hartsville school lost one full-time counselor.

More budget cuts would hurt each school in different ways.

Hartsville has been planning to move to a new $20 million complex that would house 250-plus pupils. Since its establishment in 1988, the school has rented facilities for its 128 pupils at a local college. Now, the growing college wants its facilities back.

But the move might be delayed beyond the planned date of 2003. Before the school can move into the new complex, it has to come up with $2 million to $3 million for beds, tables and other furnishings. The General Assembly hasn't committed to the funding.

The 228-pupil Greenville school, meanwhile, has just moved into a new $27 million campus paid for with a combination of state and private money. But the school's faculty might see pay cuts or layoffs down the road.

Some say budget cuts would hurt the Greenville school less than the Hartsville school, because the Greenville school has more clout in the state's business and political community.

The governor's schools are similar to independent state agencies in that they depend on money from the General Assembly each year. The state gives the arts school about $5.6 million, the science school, $3 million.

The Greenville school has raised more money from private sources than the Hartsville one.

The populous, industrial Upstate "has more resources from which to draw than Hartsville," said state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum.

"The people in Greenville give and give until it hurts. They can see they are getting something tangible," she said.

South Carolina lawmakers typically resist starting expensive new programs, but in the late 1980s and early '90s, advocates persuaded the General Assembly to spend millions on two new schools for gifted children.

The key boosters for the Hartsville Governor's School for Science and Mathematics were former Gov. Carroll Campbell and industrialist Charles Coker, the chairman of Hartsville-based Sunoco Products.

After his election, Mr. Campbell proposed creating a special school for top science and math pupils. With the state's textile industry fading, Mr. Campbell said such a school would help attract modern industry.

Mr. Coker proposed an arrangement whereby Mr. Campbell's proposed school would use Coker College facilities.

But the Hartsville school lacked the ability to get big financial support.

Mr. Coker has put at least $2 million of his own money into the Hartsville school. But the area did not have the deep reservoir of philanthropists and industries to join with Mr. Coker.

A key player in the development of the Greenville Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities was Virginia Ul-drick, who currently serves as the school's principal.

Ms. Uldrick waged a campaign to establish a year-round arts school. In the early 1980s, she persuaded then-Gov. Dick Riley to set up a summer school arts program at Furman University. Ms. Uldrick then began to form coalitions with every governor; key members of the arts, business and educational communities; and top state lawmakers.

Before the governor's schools were created, critics said they would just be glorified high schools. However, Ms. Tenenbaum says the two schools have set an example for other schools.

Both schools have programs that benefit pupils across the state. The Hartsville school provides long-distance classes by video for eligible pupils statewide. The Greenville school conducts a five-week summer session for South Carolina pupils.

Some legislators say the governor's schools are not immune from cuts.

"They have to take the hits like everyone else," said Sen. David Thomas, R-Fountain Inn. "If that means releasing personnel, so be it."

Richland County Councilwoman Kit Smith, who sits on the board of the Hartsville school's private foundation, said the school's future is up to the Legislature.

"The General Assembly created that school and has a responsibility to make decisions - either fund it or close it," she said.