School move here win-win for all

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 23, 2009

Gov. Haley Barbour has been outspoken in recent years on hisconcern of the Southwest Mississippi region and has taken extrasteps to promote the 10-county area for industrial development.Just over a year ago, during a speech in the Delta, he pledged hisefforts for this corner Mississippi – something politiciansnormally do not do while visiting other regions of the state.

Thus the shock last Monday when his proposal for reducing thestate’s budget seemed to take square aim at Southwest Mississippiin general but Brookhaven in particular. In one fell swoop thegovernor suggested closing the Mississippi School of the Arts, andtwo Department of Mental Health facilities – the CrisisIntervention Center and the Mississippi Adolescent Center. Allthree facilities, built since 2000, were individually singled outin the governor’s 22-page Executive Budget Recommendation for the2010 Legislative Session. The three facilities combined provide 185well-paying local jobs.

Not wanting to sound provincial, but per capita, it appears thatthis area took a harder hit than any other part of Mississippi. Weall have to do our share in balancing the state’s beleagueredbudget, but why is it Southwest Mississippi is called upon to digdeeper in our pockets?

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The recommendation to merge the Mississippi School of the Arts withthe Mississippi School for Math and Science on the campus of MUW atColumbus quite frankly seems unfair when one considers the economicstrength of the Golden Triangle area compared to SouthwestMississippi. Taking 65 jobs from an economically distressed areaand transferring them to an economically vibrant one seemscounterproductive to Mississippi’s best economic interests.

Consider this – as discovered earlier this year in a similar butfailed attempt by two powerful members of the Legislature – withoutextensive renovations, MUW does not have the facilities to handlethe MSA students. The cost to renovate the abandoned buildings atMUW will be in the millions, while sitting here in Brookhaven is$25 million in newly renovated and constructed facilities.Seventy-three House members voted down the merger measure this pastJanuary.

The governor’s budget writers claim that by moving the arts school,the state will save $1 million in annual budget costs. But theyfailed to mention the capital costs required to move MSA toColumbus. To use a cliché, one might say the governor is beingpenny-wise but pound-foolish!

To his credit, Gov. Barbour is suggesting a feasibility study toconsider moving the Mississippi School for the Blind and the Schoolfor the Deaf to the MSA campus. Doing so, Barbour says, would allowthe state to profit from the sale of the valuable Jackson propertyto developers and make use of the MSA campus. Using MSA may beeasier said than done.

We do have a suggestion that, to us, makes better economic sense inthat it brings jobs to Southwest Mississippi while also allowingthe state to use its assets more wisely and the governor to keephis promises.

We think consideration should be given to moving the Schools forthe Blind and Deaf, as Barbour suggested, but to the MississippiAdolescent Center campus here in Brookhaven. It is a move that mayprove safer for those special students because of its rural settingrather than urban Jackson.

Doing so would allow the state to sell the valuable Jacksonproperty and reuse a new facility here in Brookhaven that otherwisemay be vacant. In addition, by leaving the Mississippi School ofthe Arts on the Brookhaven campus, the state saves millions inconstruction expense at a time when the state can ill afford newconstruction.

It is a win-win situation for us all!

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or sende-mail to