House OKs school funds; Senate next

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 26, 2001

As the 2001 legislative session enters its final week, arealawmakers say funding for continued building work for theMississippi School of the Arts is in good shape.

“We’re OK,” said Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. “I don’t seeany problems.”

A bonding bill, including $7 million for Whitworth buildingrenovations, cleared the House Sunday and is headed for the Senate,which is expected to take up the measure Monday.

“That’s one of the bills I’m cradling along,” Hyde-Smith saidabout the arts school funds.

The bond bill includes money for Y-Hut renovations, interiorrenovations to Johnson Institute, additional Lampton Auditoriumwork and site work. The arts school funds are included in a billwith money to settle the college desegregation case plus otheruniversity and public school funds.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett was also confident about artsschool funds, with operating money getting a closer look nextyear.

“If we get the buildings built, we’re going to operate it,”Barnett said. “I’m optimistic. I feel good.”

Regarding operating funds for the school, a state budget crunchwill mean less than the $1.3 million sought. Hyde-Smith said$750,000 for restoration and operating was included an educationfunding bill.

“It’s going to come through. It’s OK,” Hyde-Smith said.

Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, MSA director, said operating funds willallow her to hire staff for the school. She said the school waslooking at a fall 2003 start date with about 60 juniors.

With the fiscal year 2002 budget still being finalized,Bodenhamer is preparing a budget for fiscal year 2003, which willstart in July 2002.

“This will be the budget that takes us right up to before schoolstarts,” she said.

In student-related matters, Bodenhamer said officials will haveto coordinate students schedules with Brookhaven High School. Also,students will have to audition for admission in January of2003.

“It’s a good nine months we have to be ready before the studentsever come,” Bodenhamer said.

In other legislative action, Barnett said the House had clearedall its appropriations bills.

Citing “inflated” projections to craft the budget, Gov. RonnieMusgrove has promised vetoes of the spending measures. Barnett saidthe governor has five days to veto the bills and then thelegislature will look to override.

“The legislature seems like it’s almost unanimous to do thingsour way,” Barnett said.

Barnett, chairman of community college appropriations, said $329million is in line for the state’s two-year schools. Faced with anapproximate $38 million shortfall, Barnett said about $22 millionin work force and other funds was found to add to community collegefunding.

“We are at a level community colleges can live with,” Barnettsaid, adding the shortfall will mean some belt-tightening at theschools.

After a weekend session, lawmakers return to work today as theyhead toward session’s end on April 1. Hyde-Smith said senators werelooking to wrap up work by Friday, although she did not know ifthat would be possible.

“We’ve still got a good many bills on the calendar to clearoff,” she said.

Barnett said general bills remain on the House calendar.

“We’ll crank those out, starting again in the morning,” Barnettsaid Sunday evening.

One bill still before lawmakers is one to allow the “ChooseLife” slogan to be added to the list of state license plateoptions. The bill, which would send $25 to anti-abortion efforts,was held on a motion to reconsider after being voted down over theweekend.

Barnett was sympathetic to anti-abortion efforts, but he sawlegal problems with the bill.

“I’m on their side, but we’ll go straight to court if put thatin there,” Barnett said.