Friday vote big boost for MSA

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 22, 2004

JACKSON — Mississippi School of the Arts supporters saidFriday’s state Board of Education decision to admit a second classwas vital for the future of the residential school for giftedstudents.

With the board’s action, 117 students are scheduled to attendthe school next year.

Of those, 71 have been invited to be part of the new juniorclass and 46 will be returning as seniors, said MSA ExecutiveDirector Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer. A new student day is scheduled forSaturday, June 26, she said.

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Bodenhamer praised the board decision as one that was in thebest interests of the state’s children. Despite an over $1 millionreduction in operational funding to $1.8 million for next year, shewas confident of the school’s future.

“We have the funds to operate and to provide the education thatthe children are entitled to have,” Bodenhamer said.

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnettsaid they were “very pleased” with the board decision.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” Hyde-Smith said.

The senator said adding a second class was critical to thefuture of the school. She said knowing the school is fullyfunctional should encourage more private financial support and moreinterest from younger students across the state.

“If we hadn’t added that junior class, we wouldn’t haverecruited anyone next year,” Hyde-Smith said.

Barnett was cautiously optimistic about the fundingsituation.

“I think we’re going to have to be frugal with the funds wehave,” Barnett said. “Once we have the first full student body,we’re going to be off and running.”

Barnett said some first year start-up expenses were out of theway. With those addressed, he indicated the school would not needas much money.

“I think we can make the money go,” said Barnett, adding that itis still important to engage the community and the entire state toseek private funding support.

Several members of the state Board of Education commented on thefunding situation before unanimously approving the MSA budget andsecond class.

Rowan Taylor, a board member from Jackson, said the arts schoolwas the legislature’s idea. He said it was “disappointing” thatlawmakers had not provided sufficient operational funds forsomething that they implemented.

Clyde Hartley, a board member from Tupelo who made the motion toapprove MSA plans, said the funding situation was not limited tothe arts school.

“It’s going to behoove everyone to work together to get adequatefunding for education for all the children of the State ofMississippi, including the school of the arts,” he said.

Board member Lavon Fluker-Reid questioned whether the boardwould approve a deficit budget for MSA if it were a regular schooldistrict. She, however, voted in support of the school.

“I think we owe it to the children,” she said.

State Superintendent Dr. Henry Johnson raised state fundingconcerns prior to the board vote. In recommending the MSA budgetand second class, though, he cited the schools’ administration’sconfidence in making the funds work and support from Hyde-Smith andthe MSA Foundation.

“We expect the school to be successful and to deliver a highquality education for the students in an arts context,” Johnsonsaid after the Friday morning meeting.

In a Thursday discussion with the state board, Hyde-Smithcommitted to help bridge any funding shortfalls that may arise.Also, the MSA Foundation is prepared to donate $170,000 to the artsschool if needed.

“We’re excited about the addition of the junior class,” said MSAFoundation President Bill Sones. “It is vital to the future of theschool and we’re pleased that the foundation can contribute to theprocess.”