Arts school budget takes big cut

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Budget pencils are being sharpened at the Mississippi School ofthe Arts after the school’s budget was slashed following state-wideeducation cuts. The size of the cut has local legislators outragedand pointing fingers.

The Department of Education announced Monday that funding forthe year-old school will be set at $1.81 million — a decrease of$1.07 million from last year. This year, the school had $2.88million in operating money from the state.

The cuts come at a time when the school is gearing up to doubleits enrollment with a new junior class scheduled to be added thisyear.

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While the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is blamingthe legislature, Rep. Jim Barnett-R of Brookhaven, is pointing hisfinger back at the MDE.

“There was no line-item appropriation for the school (MSA) bythe legislature. That decision was left up to the Department ofEducation to distribute funds,” Rep. Barnett said.

“No doubt about it, the Department of Education cut the budget,and I plan to speak with Rep. Henry L. Johnson (StateSuperintendent of Education) today,” said Rep. Barnett.

“Judy Rhodes (Director of Accountability at the MDE) has neverbeen in favor of the school, and I feel that Judy is responsiblefor the cut,” Rep. Barnett said.

“Rhodes and MSA Administrator Vicki Bodenhamer have crossedswords in the past and I feel this is a direct result of thatconflict,” he added.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith also placed the blame with theDepartment of Education, but added that the cut was more of aresult of the state legislature not fully funding education.

“Money is really short, and there are a lot of legislators whowould have loved to have had the Mississippi School of the Arts intheir district as well,” she said.

She added that the school has lost its luster for manylegislators and funding for the school will continue to be astruggle.

Both legislators pointed out that the Mississippi School of Mathand Science only received a $322,000 cut. The Mississippi Schoolfor Math and Science has a state appropriation of $4.4 million, but$1.98 million is from a trust fund.

Arts school administrative staff and Department of Educationofficials were holding emergency sessions Tuesday morning to devisea new plan for the next year.

The school opened last fall with 60 juniors who chose vocalmusic, theater, visual arts or creative writing as a discipline.The same disciplines are supposed to be maintained this fall when60 more juniors are added after this year’s class becomeseniors.

Whether there will now be a junior class, however, remains oneof the questions.

“I’m committed to getting that junior class to the school,” saidJohn Jordan, deputy state superintendent of education. “Whetherthat recommendation is accepted by my bosses I can’t say, but Ifeel confident they feel the same way.

“Our ultimate goal is to have that school open and have thatjunior class come to Brookhaven. We’re still speculating as to howwe can make this work,” Jordan said. “We can do it. I think we’regoing to have to reprioritize.”

The school’s residential status places increased demand onstaffing, he said, to account for necessary services not standardin most schools, such as employees to supervise and see to thestudents’ needs at night.

“Our ratio of adults out of the classroom to those in theclassroom is rather high,” Jordan said.

The school has 34 staff members, six of whom are teachers. Atleast two people on the administrative staff, including Arts SchoolDirector Vicki Bodenhamer, also teach a class.

Out of the classroom, the school’s staff includes a nurse, afood service manager and four cafeteria workers, a custodian, threemaintenance workers, a residence hall director and three residencecounselors, and security officers, among others.

No employee at the school has been notified yet that they wouldbe cut, he said, and officials are still trying to determine howbest to allocate the funding.

Students do not pay tuition or room and board at either theMississippi School of the Arts or the Mississippi School forMathematics and Science on the Mississippi University for Womencampus in Columbus.

The possibility of charging tuition or room and board to thestudents at the arts school is not a consideration this year,Jordan said.

“There is no possibility of a tuition this next school year.Where the discussion will lead after that I have no idea at thistime,” he said. “These are lean times, and when you get shorted youdo what you have to do. We’re going to remain positive about this.I believe if more money had been available then we would havereceived more money.”

Bill Sones, president of the arts school’s foundation board,said they would have to step up their efforts to encourage privatedonations to the school.

“We’re in high gear anyway, so I’m not sure how much more we cando,” he said. “It probably will require more efforts on everyone’spart.”