Lawmakers set to tour arts school

Published 6:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2003

Mississippi School of the Arts officials hope to “let the goodtimes roll” Thursday afternoon as they welcome state lawmakers toBrookhaven for a tour of the Whitworth campus and a MardiGras-themed reception.

“We’re hoping for a good crowd,” said Jennifer Jackson, MSA’sdirector of marketing. “You never know with the weather.”

A forecast for inclement weather has prompted one change inThursday’s activities. The reception has been moved from BelleRosen, the former Whitworth College president’s home, to the St.Francis of Assisi school auditorium.

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The itinerary calls for lawmakers to travel by bus from Jacksonand arrive at Lampton Auditorium for a MSA presentation between 4p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Following the presentation will be a brief bustour of the campus and then on to the St. Francis auditorium forthe reception.

In Jackson, Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Dist. 92 Rep. Dr.Jim Barnett have been drumming up interest in the school visit.

“I’m trying to encourage everyone to come,” Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith said she had received several commitments fromlawmakers planning to attend. However, she also mentioned a numberof session-related conflicts that could keep some away.

About 40 legislators came to Brookhaven for a similar event lastyear. Overall, more than 150 lawmakers, state and local officialsattended.

This year’s event comes at a time when MSA officials arepreparing to open the school in August, and state officials areconsidering funding levels for its operation.

Officials are seeking $3.1 million from the state to open theschool. An historic education funding bill passed earlier this yeardirected the state Department of Education to fund the arts schoolbut did set a specific amount.

Hyde-Smith said Senate leadership remained committed to comingup with $2 million of that amount, and Barnett is optimistic theHouse can locate the remainder. The senator likened the fundingprocess to that of riding a bull.

“The whistle has not blown. The eight seconds are not up,”Hyde-Smith said.

Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, MSA executive director, updated theschool’s Parent Community Council on the student admissions processduring a meeting earlier this week.

Phase I of students’ portfolio evaluations has been completed,Bodenhamer said, and Phase II will involve inviting students foron-site interviews and auditions. She said Phase II activity isplanned for the second week in April and was scheduled that way inthe event that funding does not materialize and the school is notable to open this year.

“It’s going to be horribly, horribly disappointing if they arenot allowed to come,” Bodenhamer said.

Bodenhamer also relayed the news about Senate and House fundingplans and said school supporters should continue to interact in apositive manner with legislators. She said she has receivedpositive feedback from legislative leadership and compliments aboutthe MSA Foundation’s fund-raising efforts, which last yeargenerated over $734,000 for the school.

Bodenhamer said officials are continuing to move forward withplans for the school.

“We believe we will be opening in August,” Bodenhamer said.”There’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now andthen.”