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Ed board OKs arts school’s second class

JACKSON — Amid funding concerns voiced by State SuperintendentHenry Johnson, the Mississippi Board of Education Friday morningapproved a $1.8 million budget and the admission of a second classto the Mississippi School of the Arts.

Johnson recommended approval of both a junior and senior classfor the MSA’s 2004-2005 school year following a board discussionThursday.

“However, I make this recommendation with some reservations, andI still have serious concerns regarding the level of state fundingthat was appropriated for the school,” Johnson said in a statementprior to the board’s vote.

Funding for the year-old school was cut by $1.07 million fromlast year. Last year, the school had $2.88 million in operatingmoney from the state.

Johnson said the education department budget staff believes thefunding “is insufficient for the proper operation of the school.Furthermore, the staff believes that the appropriation is notenough to provide a high level, quality education for the studentsthat attend the school.”

However, Johnson cited several factors above and beyond thestate funding concerns that made him confident enough to make hisrecommendation.

He mentioned the commitment by the MSA administration and theirconfidence in their ability to operate the school with statefunding and a $170,000 donation by the Mississippi School of theArts Foundation.

Vicki Bodenhamer, MSA executive director, also expressedconfidence in the school’s ability to operate on the reducedfunding.

“We feel that we have planned prudently and that we have theresources to operate the school,” she said after the boardmeeting.

Johnson also alluded to a willingness by District 39 SenatorCindy Hyde-Smith to help bridge any shortfalls in funding,including the possibility of a deficit appropriation during the2005 legislative session.

Hyde-Smith said Department of Education officials had beenconcerned there would be no money to continue to operate in theevent of an emergency, such as a tornado strike, or to react to anyunforeseen problems.

“Many state agencies are in similar situations. We didn’t needto spend $28 million and then pull the plug because a tornado mighthit,” she said, referring to the amount of funding spent increating, building and operating the school to date.

Johnson was also impressed by the MSA Foundation’s commitment toengage the Brookhaven community in an effort to raise additionalfunds for the school should it become necessary.

Bill Sones, president of the Foundation’s board of directors,said after the meeting he was excited by the addition of a juniorclass.

However, he said, a lot of work still needs to be done inrealizing the school’s full potential and in promoting itthroughout the state.

“Our job is by no means complete,” Sones said.

The residential school will host 117 students with the additionof the junior class, Bodenhamer said. The 71 students in the newclass will join 46 returning students of the senior class.