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Lawmakers hear arts school pitch

JACKSON — As the Mississippi School of the Arts prepares toopen later year, arts school and Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamberof Commerce officials Tuesday pitched the need for continuedlegislative support to build a bright future for gifted artsstudents in the state.

“Without your support, we would not be where we are,” MSAExecutive Director Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer told lawmakers during aBrookhaven Day at the Capitol luncheon.

Arts school officials have requested $4.6 million in operatingfunds for the fiscal year that starts in July.

“A lot of that is one-time expenditures,” said Bodenhamer,mentioning furnishings, library books, cafeteria start-up items andothers. “A lot of that will last for years.”

State officials offered support for the arts school butacknowledged that tight budget times could impact funding.

“It’ll probably delay full implementation of the arts school forseveral years,” said Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, a member of theSenate Education Committee. “My intentions are to fund it at alevel that will allow it to function.”

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said the private fund-raising efforts couldhave a positive influence on lawmakers when setting budgetpriorities.

Chaney and Tuck were among the approximately 160 legislators,state and local officials and others who attended the luncheon.They were given toy building block replicas of the eight-storyStudent Life Center. The toys included the logo, “Together, we’reputting the pieces in place.”

“People always look forward to this event,” Tuck said. “It’s agreat opportunity to see and hear about the positive things.”

Bodenhamer said 2002 was a great year for MSA. Praising MSAFoundation efforts, she said the organization faced quite achallenge when it began seeking private funds for the school.

“The Mississippi School of the Arts Foundation had nothing tosell but a wonderful vision for the children of the state ofMississippi,” Bodenhamer said.

She highlighted over $734,000 in contributions to the schoollast year, including $159,043 from grants, $493,580 in financialcontributions and $82,186 in in-kind assistance. That nearlymatched the school’s approximately $800,000 operating budget forthis year.

“We’ve done some great things,” said Bill Sones, MSA Foundationchairman, about 2002 success.

Sones mentioned three pieces of property that were acquired, twothrough purchase and one through donation, in 2002. The propertyacquisitions give the school use of the entire corner at theintersection of Brookway Boulevard and Cherokee Street.

“Our efforts are on-going,” Sones said. “Private fund-raisingand contributions will be an important part of the schoolforever.”

Chamber officials also took a chance during Brookhaven Day topromote local economic highlights of 2002.

Despite tough times elsewhere, Tuck was impressed with economicsuccesses Brookhaven and Lincoln County saw in 2002. Citing chamberstatistics, she alluded to three new industries and 70 new businessstarts as good things for the community.

“It’s an indication of a community that’s working together andthe positive things that are happening,” Tuck said.

Kenny Goza, chamber of commerce vice-president, said the eventhad good turnout, especially considering a bank associationfunction was going on at the same time as the Brookhaven Dayactivity. A church near the capitol was also holding a lunch-timeprogram Wednesday.

“It’s not what we’re doing in Brookhaven, it’s what we’re doingtogether in Brookhaven,” said Goza, echoing the event’s theme.

In other Brookhaven Day activity, the arts school model was setup in the Capitol rotunda. Bodenhamer and other arts schoolofficials talked about the school and fielded a variety ofquestions from capitol visitors.

Bodenhamer said the other events had an added benefit of furtherpromoting the arts school and building excitement in other peoplein addition to lawmakers.

“That just broadens our awareness,” Bodenhamer said.