CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster has vetoed 41 items in next year's state budget, slashing over $56 million in funds the General Assembly approved last Tuesday.
A total of $17.5 million would be cut from spending allocated for school bus leases and purchases by the Department of Education through the state's lottery.
The cut in spending will have an impact on how schools operate in the Lowcountry, putting the state's school bus funding down from $29 million, to $11 million, begging the question of where will the additional money come from.
"If the money's not found the state will have to maintain the buses that they have. Right now we're experiencing 30 breakdowns a week and that effects our ability to get kids to school on time," Jeff Borowy, Charleston County School District Chief Operating Officer said.
Of the more than 5,000 state-issued school buses, 1,500 of them have been on the road over 20 years, including buses in Charleston County.
"We rely heavily on the states provided bus and we've got nearly 300 of them now, unfortunately, a significant number are well over age, Borowy said. "We've got 114 buses over 20 or greater years old and we've got 31 buses that are 25 or older so there is an impact on us if alternative funding is not found," said Borowy.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman criticized the veto Monday, saying it put children at risk.
"Our school bus fleet incorporates more than 1,500 buses that are over 20 years old and not only are these old buses twice as expensive to operate and maintain, but they are also experiencing structural and mechanical issues," Spearman said. "I am deeply disappointed in the decision to veto this essential funding and remain committed to working with the General Assembly to override it and ensure South Carolina's students have a safe means of transportation to and from school."
For CCSD, Borowy said the district experience about 30 state-issued school bus breakdowns a week, mostly related to age.
"If the money's not found the state will have to maintain the buses that they have. Right now we're experiencing 30 breakdowns a week, and that affects our ability to get kids to school on time," Borowy said in response to the veto.
McMaster said the lottery should be used only for scholarships for students, not for school buses.
The Senate and House could return and override the vetoes, but the date on when they will come back and work through them has not been set yet.