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Staff cuts coming to MSA

Staffing cuts are inevitable at the Mississippi School of theArts after more than $1 million was slashed from its budget,according to school officials.

“There is no way with that funding that we could avoid anemployee reduction,” said MSA Administrator Vicki Bodenhamer.

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 thisfall.

Bodenhamer said the school accomplished a lot during a day-longemergency session Tuesday that lasted “until the wee hours of themorning.” She was scheduled to be in Jackson again Wednesday tomeet with MDE officials to recommend a new budget.

“We’re making progress, and we’re going to work it out,” shesaid. “It will be a much-tightened belt and people will have toshare more responsibility, but we’ll be all right.”

Bodenhamer declined to discuss any possible personnel changes atthe school. She does not make the hiring and firing decisions, shesaid, and can only recommend that certain actions be taken.

One MSA employee already has new job. Kimberly Wand, who servedas high school principal, will be the new assistant principal atAlexander Junior High School. She was hired by the Brookhavenschool system Tuesday.

Several “packages” were devised Tuesday to address the budgetshortfall, and Bodenhamer will present them to MDE Wednesday. Allof the packages include employee cuts, she said.

“Dr. John Jordan (deputy state superintendent) and the statesuperintendent are doing everything they can to protect theschool,” she said. “They’re our good partners. They’ve been veryhelpful at exploring our options and helping us to find ways to dothings at a lower cost.”

Bodenhamer said she could not estimate when the MDE may makeit’s final decision on which package to approve.

“It’s got to happen soon though, because we’re running up on theend of the fiscal year. We have to have that budget to begin thenext year,” she said.

The school has 34 staff members, six of whom are teachers. Atleast two people on the administrative staff, including 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.

On a positive note, Bodenhamer said, there is no doubt that ajunior class will be at the school next year to replace the currentclass, who will become seniors.

“Students who have applied and been accepted have nothing toworry about,” she said. “They’ll find the same quality school asthey did when they came to visit.”

Approximately 70 new students are expected to join the 50 in thesenior class.

“That means we’ll have about 120 students. My dorm is full,”Bodenhamer said.

Offsetting the costs of the school by installing room and boardand other residential fees is an option being explored by the statelegislature, she said.

The Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science in Columbus,the Mississippi School of the Arts and the North Carolina School ofthe Arts are the only residential schools of their type that do notalready charge those fees, Bodenhamer said. However, the school inNorth Carolina also hosts a college and graduate school that isopen to international students that helps make up holes in theirbudget.

The fees would most likely be on a sliding scale to accommodatestudents from poorer households, she said.

“No student who was wanting to join would be discriminatedagainst because they couldn’t afford to pay,” Bodenhamer said. “Thequestion is what is fair and reasonable. It’s a big question thathas to be looked at.”

The top official at MSA said she doesn’t blame anyone for thecurrent budget constraints at the school.

“I think the legislature worked hard. It’s a tough time. I can’tfault anyone,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s a combination of factors, butif you don’t invest in education you’ve lost your future.”