Arts school also under budget ax

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 9, 2004

Mississippi School of the Arts officials are considering how tooperate the school next year with more than twice as many studentsand less operating funds than this year.

“We’ve been asked to be creative,” said Executive Director Dr.Vicki Bodenhamer following an education subcommittee meeting withlegislators earlier this week.

Bodenhamer said the school’s 2003-04 budget is $2.88 million. Apending legislative proposal would set the school budget for nextyear at $2.8 million, about $88,000 less than this year.

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“It’s passed in the House. It has not been acted upon by theSenate,” Bodenhamer said about the bill.

Bodenhamer described Wednesday’s legislative meeting as a”positive fact-finding discussion.” She said it included questionsand answers about student admissions criteria and other schoolfunctions.

“They asked us to look at the budget and cut anywhere we couldcut,” Bodenhamer said.

Bodenhamer said the budget situation could mean reductions inforce. Another possibility was administrators being in theclassroom more often.

“It may mean administrators are teaching next year, more than weare this year,” said Bodenhamer, who teaches one course during theday.

Kim Wand, director of academics, teaches one course and overseesthe annual staff. Bodenhamer said the teaching flexibility is abenefit of having administrators who are certified instructors.

“This is not a traditional school setting. We’re used tooperating differently,” Bodenhamer said.

The state school for gifted arts students opened in August witha junior class. The school will welcome another class of juniorsnext year as this year’s class becomes seniors.

After opening with 68 students in August, enrollment is now at51 students.

Bodenhamer said students were lost due to illness orhomesickness, and that was not uncommon for a residential school.She added that MSA’s percentage of lost students was less than atcommunity and junior colleges.

Bodenhamer said MSA could have up to 140 students next year. Shesaid the number would depend on how many students are admitted.

To accommodate the larger enrollment, MSA officials hadrequested approximately $4.8 million in funds for next year. Withthe House bill setting funding at $2.8 million, the prospects ofhigher funding appear very uncertain.

“They’re looking for money everywhere,” Bodenhamer said aboutlawmakers efforts.

Bodenhamer said budget cuts are happening across the state.

“It’s not unique to us. All state agencies’ budgets are less,”she said.

Bodenhamer said building a school like MSA is a team effort, andeveryone involved is doing what they can to keep the schoolgoing.

The legislature and the Brookhaven School District are keypartners in the school-building effort, Bodenhamer said. Shereported good results from MSA’s relationship with both.

Bodenhamer said legislators had been very positive about theschool and the reception it’s received. She mentioned MSA studentinteraction with lawmakers such as during Brookhaven Day inJanuary.

“Students doing well educationally make impressions,” Bodenhamersaid.

While receiving arts instruction on the Whitworth campus, MSAstudents take other course work at Brookhaven High School.Bodenhamer said there had been no problem with thatarrangement.

“They’re great partners,” she said of BHS. “Our students aredoing well there.”