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Arts School backers seek school board’s help

The Brookhaven School District was asked Tuesday to assist theMississippi School of the Arts with financial matters.

Bill Sones, a representative of the arts school’s foundation,requested consideration of a waiver or reduction in the amount MSApays the public school district to provide non-arts classes for MSAstudents. The request was made at the monthly meeting of the schooldistrict’s board of trustees.

The school district receives $908 per MSA student, according toInterim Superintendent James Tillman.

“That’s a formula the state came up with,” he said, adding thatthe fee covers teachers’ pay and any other expenses incurred whileeducating the MSA students.

In his plea, Sones explained that MSA was in financial troublebecause its budget was cut significantly earlier this year. He saidhe learned how close MSA came to being shut down this year whileattending a Mississippi Department of Education board meeting lessthan two months ago.

“That’s when I really found out that they (state board members)were seriously considering not admitting a junior class,” he said.”We felt like that would be a kiss of death for the school.”

Talk of not allowing a junior class at MSA after only one yearof operation came about when the state legislature reduced fundingfor the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). Unlike localschool districts, the arts school under the guidance of MDE and isfunded through that state agency.

Education funding cuts have affected public schools across thestate, including the Brookhaven School District, which asked for araise in ad valorem taxes for the coming year. District officialsproject a .93-mill increase in the tax levy from 45.31 mills to46.24 mills.

“We’re certainly very supportive of the arts school, butobviously we have to be concerned about our kids and ourcommunity,” said Dr. Prentiss Smith, chairman of the board oftrustees. “We have to try to walk a fine line between our communityand the arts school.”

The suggestion to decrease or waive the student fee came fromofficials with the state department of education as well as Rep.Bubba Pierce, who heads the House Education Committee, saidSones.

Sones pointed out the MSA was a “boom to our economy,” so it wasimportant for the school to maintain full operation. In order to doso, Sones believes the school district can help during tough times,even though it will decrease the district’s revenue.

Amy Jacobs, a parent in the school district and a member of theMSA Foundation, added that she hoped the schools could “blend”together to better Brookhaven.

Smith said the board would take the matter under considerationand contact Sones once a decision was made.

In other financial matters, board members learned that theschool district’s recent audit brought good news.

“No negative findings and your fund balance went up,” said PatLowery, a certified public accountant whose office conducted theaudit.

Also, a resolution for the ad valorem tax increase request willsoon be sent to the city’s taxing authority. City fathers areexpected to set millage rate, or tax levy, at a September boardmeeting after the school board approved the resolution.

In other areas of discussion, the school district seemed to beon track to start the 2004-05 school year next week. Tillman saidthere is only one vacancy, which was expected to be filledsoon.

Students can expect stricter restrictions on computer use asboard members revised the policy on the use of Internet and otherelectronic resources to meet federal and state guidelines.

Tillman said the policy will be more specific about what Websites and chat rooms can be visited. He said the policy was revisedso students will not act inappropriately.

Students and their parents must read and sign the policy beforestudents can use any computer in the school district.

The regular meeting came to a close with an executive session todiscuss personnel, specifically filling the superintendent positionleft vacant earlier this month.

“We’re trying to move very rapidly with our superintendentsearch,” said Smith. “We will be conducting interviews soon andhope to have an announcement to make by the end of the month ofAugust.”