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Arts school plans go forward; state looks for big budget cuts

Despite lawmaker discussion of possible budget cuts, MississippiSchool of the Arts officials say they are moving forward with plansto open the school in 2003.

Cutting a $1.5 million request for MSA operating funds in 2003was among possibilities mentioned Tuesday during a SenateAppropriations subcommittee meeting. Facing a tight financialsituation, lawmakers are looking for ways to save money beforeapproving the 2003 budget during the 2002 legislative session.

Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, MSA executive director, describedTuesday’s meeting as a “preliminary examinations on ways to cut thebudget.” Nevertheless, plans to open the school on schedule areproceeding.

“We’re going forward as if we’re opening on ’03,” Bodenhamersaid. “We won’t know (about budget cuts) until the spring, so we’regoing forward. We can’t wait.”

Work on the Student Life Center to house the first class ofstudents is continuing and work on the Y-Hut and Johnson Institute,the main classroom facility, is also planned, Bodenhamer said.Without operating funds, she said the infrastructure will be inplace, but there will be no students.

Delaying the school opening could mean missed opportunities,Bodenhamer said.

“The biggest concern is another year will be lost forMississippi students who are not being served with the kind ofeducational programs they need,” Bodenhamer said. “These kids willnot get another chance at this level. Some of Mississippi’s finestcould slip through our hands.”

The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2003 with 80juniors, with juniors and seniors being taught in future years.When fully operational, the school will provide classes forapproximately 300 students.

Mentioning Tuesday’s meeting, Bodenhamer said she had been toldthe arts school was not being singled out.

“I have been assured everything in every department is beingexamined,” she said.

Bodenhamer said she appreciated the support of the community andthe Brookhaven School District as officials pursue opening of thearts school. She acknowledged the possibility of funding cuts inall budget areas.

“We all know how tight the budget is,” Bodenhamer said. “All ofus could be cut across the board in every state department in everystate agency.”