Area legislators ready to fight for art school

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 28, 2009

The Mississippi School of the Arts is facing one of threeoutcomes during the 2010 legislative session.

The school could be left alone, it could be moved to Columbus tojoin the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science or MSMScould come to Brookhaven and join MSA.

Which possibility becomes reality is anyone’s guess heading intothe session on Jan. 5.

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“You just don’t know right now,” said District 39 Sen. CindyHyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven. “We have to get in there and start thetennis match. It’s not done until it’s done.”

Hyde-Smith, who has been at the forefront of the most recentbattle for the future of MSA, expressed confidence for a favorableoutcome for Brookhaven. Area lawmakers and local leaders haveattempted to turn the tables on proponents of a plan to close theMSA campus in Brookhaven and move the school to Columbus – where itwould join MSMS on the campus of the Mississippi University forWomen – by lobbying for MSMS to abandon the Golden Triangle andrelocate in Brookhaven.

The counter-argument began last year as more or less a nosethumbing toward House Democrats who proposed the move, butHyde-Smith said the idea has recently generated realdiscussion.

“It’s looking much better for Brookhaven,” she said. “I thinkthe conversation about merging the W with Mississippi StateUniversity would make it more logical to send MSMS toBrookhaven.”

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, also questioned thewisdom of moving the state’s more than $25 million investment toColumbus to sit on the campus of an institution plagued withinstability.

MUW has a misleading name the college is trying to change, adirector who will soon step down and has been target for merger inGov. Haley Barbour’s budget recommendations.

“MUW is going to have its own problems,” Moak said. “I amcertain (MSA) has newer buildings and a more desirable campus withan opportunity to grow. There’s nothing wrong if you want to movesome of these other folks on down to Brookhaven. We’ll welcomethem.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, has also beenfighting for MSA, and the third-year lawmaker is also nervous aboutthe possibility of moving the arts school. She said the chances ofkeeping the school in Brookhaven are 50-50 heading into thesession, but added that MSA defenders are ready for the fight,armed with information that shows the arts school’s value in thecity.

“What the people of Southwest Mississippi need to know isthey’re not talking about closing the school, they’re talking aboutmoving it to North Mississippi. We need those jobs here,” she said.”I’ve never fought so hard in my life for an institution that worksout pretty well for $2.8 million. MSA has a 100 percent graduationrate, gets 100 percent scholarships and 100 percent of thosestudents go to college.”