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City leaders lobby for arts school

When it comes time to consider legislation that would move theMississippi School of the Arts to Columbus, Brookhaven Mayor LesBumgarner has a term he wants lawmakers to memorize:

“Revenue neutral.”

“That’s one thing we want to make clear,” he said said. “We wantthe arts school to remain in Brookhaven, and we feel like it wouldbe cost ineffective to move it.”

Bumgarner and city aldermen will be relaying that message tostate representatives and senators throughout Wednesday during themid-winter conference of the Mississippi Municipal League, anassociation of statewide city officials. MML members will meet atthe Capitol during the day and host a legislative dinner at night,giving Brookhaven officials plenty of opportunities to continue thelocal fight in support of the embattled arts school.

House Bill 599 seeks to move MSA adjacent to the MississippiSchool for Mathematics and Science at the campus of the MississippiUniversity for Women in Columbus to save state money, but facts andcircumstances surrounding both residential high schools may provethat notion incorrect.

Notwithstanding the considerable economic damage that would bedone to Southwest Mississippi and the $25 million in taxpayerinvestments that would be abandoned by moving MSA out ofBrookhaven, considerable renovation or construction will likely berequired to accommodate arts students at the MUW campus.

Combined with several other complexities, moving MSA to Columbusmight actually cost the state more money. The Brookhavendelegation’s task will be making lawmakers realize it.

“Some people are impressed with facts and sometimes they’renot,” Bumgarner said. “We’re looking for the people who areimpressed with facts. MSA is caught up in a budget-savingsituation, but it’s not really budget-saving.”

Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes said she wanted to drive homethe significance of the reverter clause on the MSA property deed,which would bring the entire campus back under the city’s controlunless MSA stays or a similar education institution is locatedthere. She said the city would still have to uphold its end of thebargain and make more than $2 million in bond payments – school orno school.

Of course, money isn’t the sole focus of the argument.

Estes also wants to remind lawmakers that MSA serves theirconstituents just as much – if not more – than hers. Arts studentscome to the school from all over the state, and almost every countyand district has been represented in its student body.

“It’s not just a Brookhaven facility. It meets the needs of thewhole state,” she said.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said he would talk up thestrong support base MSA enjoys in Brookhaven – the foundation, hostfamilies and community involvement – making the case that movingthe school would weaken it at least, and destroy it at most.

“There’s no doubt – the support won’t be there if they move it.Not like it is now,” he said.

Moving the school would also seriously disrupt MSA’s incredibleprogress and success, Cameron said. The school’s 2009 graduatingclass earned approximately $3.2 million in scholarship offers,about $300,000 more than its $2.9 million budget. Over the lastthree years, scholarship offers have at a minimum exceeded 60percent of the annual budget.

Besides MSA’s propensity to feed its students to colleges anduniversities, Cameron pointed out the obvious – the students aregood.

“We had that very thing come out in a young lady who performedon ‘American Idol,'” he said, referring to Jasmine Murray, afinalist on last year’s massively populary TV talent show. “She’s afine example of the talent coming through the arts school andrepresenting Mississippi.”