Education key factor in good community

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 12, 2004

One has to look only at a population ranking of Mississippicities and counties to see that Brookhaven and Lincoln County arean economic overachiever. While we rank 27th in population size, weare 18th in total retail sales. We do more with less than anycounty the Mississippi.

Brookhaven being ranked among the Top 100 small towns in thecountry by a leading nationally-distributed economic developmentmagazine last month is further proof of our success.

We were one of eight communities in Mississippi to be recognizedand the second-to-the-smallest state community on the list. Theflip side of this is that we beat out many larger Mississippicommunities that should have superior financial resources.

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It is no accident that we made the list. A combined effort ofcommunity leaders from both the city and county over the years hasbeen successful in building our economic base. Our location on theInterstate 55 and Highway 84 corridor — along with CN railroadsplitting the county — gives us an advantage.

There is another piece of the economic development formula thatassures our place among the best — the local priority placed oneducation.

Be it city, county or private schools, the citizens of thiscommunity have not been satisfied with just being average. Ourschool districts have been driven to be the best possible. Naturalcompetition between the three districts helps ‘raise the bar.’

When industry comes knocking, one of the first questions askedanywhere is about the quality of a community’s educationsystem.

One has to look only at the larger communities across the state,the ones we regularly trump in the game of economic development,and see a glaring difference – a lack of intense community supportfor their local public schools.

This brings us to the real point of all of this — the battlefor education funding now going on in Jackson between Gov. HaleyBarbour and the House of Representatives. Caught in the cross-hairsof a budget battle are the children of the state and the emotionsof an electorate that is frustrated with a budget deficit that mustbe addressed.

Gov. Barbour’s goal is to cut the state’s $709 million budgetdeficit in half this year and eliminate the deficit next year. Heis determined to do it without raising taxes, withoutunrealistically raising revenue estimates and by cuttingexpenses.

In order to accomplish that goal, he believes $160 million mustbe cut in education spending. Locally, that means roughly $900,000in the Brookhaven schools and just over $1 million in the LincolnCounty Schools.

At the legislative level, we have two camps: a House versionsupported by Speaker Billy McCoy, which effectively funds the $160million education deficit, and a Senate version supported by Gov.Barbour that does not.

Lines have been drawn, and neither side is backing away.

Meanwhile, school boards across the state are sharpening theirpencils in preparation of the worst-case scenario as the deadlinelooms this week to sign teacher contracts. It is a high stakespolitical chess game where, unfortunately, teachers are thepawns.

Hmmmm, let’s see, what was it that was an importantcomponent to Brookhaven being named to the top 100 small citieslist? And, if education is so important to economic development,why do some want to cut that crucial element?

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to