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If needed, merge MSA, MSMS in Brookhaven

A new legislative session is only four months away and as inyears past it appears the Mississippi School of the Arts will againbe struggling for its survival. No doubt with the critical revenueshortfall, state legislators have some tough choices to make andMSA – like everyone else – will have to face the scrutiny of budgetwriters.

House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, laiddown the gauntlet on Thursday when he singled out the state’s tworesidential high schools as examples of areas to find budgetsavings. The Mississippi School of the Arts located here inBrookhaven and the Mississippi School for Math and Science locatedon the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus are230 miles apart. Stringer believes it would be more cost efficientif the schools were operated on a single campus.

A bill sponsored by Stringer to consolidate MSA and MSMS atColumbus was defeated by a 30-vote margin earlier this year.Legislators realized that moving the arts school would befinancially unfeasible due to millions of dollars in renovation andnew construction costs that would have been required on the MUWcampus.

Since the earliest days of MSA there has been an effort byColumbus leaders to find a way consolidate the two schools onto theMUW campus in an effort to prop up the ailing historic MUW campus.This year that effort could gain traction as legislators are forcedto find even more budget savings.

With that in mind, legislators may want to consider theAppropriations chairman’s ideas but with a slightly different twistfrom last year – consolidate the two schools onto the Brookhavencampus!

Why? Consider the following, as it may be the most prudentsolution.

According to the 2009 budget for the Mississippi Department ofEducation, in an apples to apples comparison, the per-pupil cost ofan MSA student in Brookhaven was $20,698. The per-pupil cost at themath and science school in Columbus was $22,312. While the studentcosts are high, the Brookhaven campus obviously is run moreefficiently – possibly due to the newer and more modernfacilities.

Another issue to consider is double dipping. The Brookhavencampus along with the buildings on the campus are owned by theState of Mississippi – every dollar invested by taxpayers aredollars owned by taxpayers. The math and science school is requiredto lease its facilities from state-owned MUW – taxpayerseffectively pay twice!

A third issue is dorm and instructional space. Consolidation ofthe two schools on either campus will require renovation orconstruction expense as neither campus has enough usable vacantspace, although the Brookhaven campus likely has the edge as it hasthe newest facilities.

From an economic development standpoint, the Golden Trianglearea is booming while Southwest Mississippi is struggling -spreading economic and job resources to all corners of the state isa wiser investment of state funds by state legislators.

Putting financial issues aside, another strong reason forconsideration of consolidating the campus to Brookhaven is simpleas community. While Columbus is a delightful place to live andraise a family, the fact remains that the MUW campus is a collegecampus, which mixes high school age juniors and seniors withcollege age adults. Located a short drive away is another largercollege campus – Mississippi State University!

Here in Brookhaven students are located among quiet historicneighborhoods that allow 16- and 17-year-olds a feel similar totheir own hometown in other parts of Mississippi. Five churches arelocated within two blocks of MSA.

At the same time parents can feel comfortable that their childis secure in a safe, clean and wholesome small town environment.The fact that Brookhaven sits in a dry county while Columbus doesnot and the fact that the Brookhaven campus location does notrequire a 10-foot tall iron security fence might also sit well withfuture MSMS parents.

These trying economic times require tough decisions and creativethinking. Every option should be considered with the future inmind.

If consolidation is the aim of legislators, that consolidationappears to be more cost effective and more parental friendly hereon the campus in Brookhaven.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, orsend e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.