Senator hopeful over arts school option

Published 6:00 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

The idea of bringing the Mississippi School For Math and Scienceto Brookhaven – instead of sending the Mississippi School of theArts to Columbus – could be gaining traction at the state level, aLincoln County lawmaker said Wednesday.

“That is one of the things they’re really looking seriously atdoing,” said District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in describing herdiscussions with state leaders about the upcoming legislativesession.

In releasing his Executive Budget recommendations last month,Gov. Haley Barbour suggested relocating the arts school currentlyon the Whitworth College campus in Brookhaven and merging it withMSMS on the campus on the Mississippi University for Women inColumbus. An alternative suggestion has been made by MSA supportersto bring MSMS to Brookhaven and join it with the arts school.

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Speaking Wednesday to the Brookhaven Kiwanis Club, Hyde-Smithsaid such a move would require the construction of a new dorm here.But the senator said money for class space and other renovations atMSMS would be needed if that path were followed.

“You’re going to have to spend money either way it is,” saidHyde-Smith, questioning whether any money would be saved if eitherschool were moved.

Hyde-Smith said the local response to the governor’srecommendations, which also included the closures of two statemental health facilities in Brookhaven, has not been “whining”about the possible losses. She said a dollars and cents approachwill be needed to sway opinion regarding the arts school options,the senator said.

Contrary to a $40,000 per-student total often cited, Hyde-Smithsaid the MSA per-student cost is $18,000 a year versus $22,000 perstudent at MSMS. The senator also mentioned that the state pays alease to MUW for its MSMS space.

“It’s looking better in our favor,” the senator said later aboutMSMS to MSA possibilities.

Regarding other issues related to the governor’srecommendations, Hyde-Smith said she would like to see the stateschools for the blind and deaf moved to the site of the MississippiAdolescent Center. Clients served by MSA, she said, could betransitioned to community-based services.

“That would be a very good thing,” she said about a new use forthe MAC property, adding there is room there to expand ifneeded.

Also, the relocation of the blind and deaf schools out ofJackson would allow the state to utilize the valuable propertycurrently used by the schools.

Hyde-Smith indicated the possibility of change related to themental health crisis center invention center.

The senator said the city did need to lose the center, but itcould be put under new management. One new management possibilityis the regional community health complex, under an arrangementsimilar to a successful pilot program in Grenada.

“They want it and I want to give it to them,” Hyde-Smithsaid.

Hyde-Smith also touched on a number of statewide issues, not theleast of which will be a difficult budget situation that willimpact many decisions in the coming session.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” the senator said.

Hyde-Smith cited revenue totals showing the state down incollections between $250 million a month and $411 million a monthsince July. She indicated the situation is unlike any she’s seen inher 10 years in the Legislature.

“It is as severe as I have ever seen,” she said.

Faced with the budget concerns, Hyde-Smith said lawmakers willhave to adjust and deal with the hand they’ve been dealt, which isbeing further complicated by a federal government that hasforgotten basic economic principles. However, the senator offeredone potential bright spot.

“The good thing about this is we’re taking a more realisticapproach,” the senator said.