Brown says MSA move bill dead

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The author of a bill that would move the Mississippi School ofthe Arts of out Brookhaven says his legislation will die incommittee Tuesday night.

House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, saidHouse Bill 42 was not taken up during the last meeting of anappropriations subcommittee scheduled before a legislative deadlineat midnight Tuesday, and another meeting will not be called. HB 42will not technically die until Tuesday’s deadline.

“I just didn’t feel like fighting with it this year,” Brownsaid. “I still think we need to take a look at it. We need to takea look at all these schools.”

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The bill, which called for MSA to be moved to the MississippiUniversity for Women campus in Columbus, was the chairman’s thirdattempt at moving the school in three years.

Brown praised the work done at MSA, but questioned the amount ofmoney spent there. He said the school’s annual per-student spendingwas among the highest of any high school in the state.

“The school does good work. I’m not complaining about theproduct at all. I’m trying to find out the most efficient way tospend our money and the best thing for the kids,” he said.

The pending death of HB 42 will mark the third consecutive yeara bill that would yank MSA up from Brookhaven and send it to MUW -where it would be paired with another residential high school forgifted juniors and seniors, the Mississippi School for Mathematicsand Science – has fallen in the Legislature.

In 2009, HB 1555 was defeated in the House by a vote of 73-49.In 2010, HB 599 was ready to come before the House again but diedon the calendar without action.

All three bills have been written by Brown and handled by HouseAppropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose.

But all three bills have faced what so far have beeninsurmountable obstacles, mostly financial.

MUW’s arts facilities and dormitory space are inadequate, andsome buildings that could be used to teach arts students areabandoned. MUW officials last year estimated almost $3 millionwould be necessary to renovate buildings if arts students weretransferred there.

Likewise, the state has already invested millions in theBrookhaven campus, building top-notch facilities the city ofBrookhaven would control after the enactment of a reverter clausein the MSA deed.

The downsides of moving MSA have earned the bills scorn fromlegislators statewide.

“We’ve built a coalition of supporters for MSA,” said District39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven. “A lot of times whensomeone introduces a bill and they see there’s major opposition andthere’s going to be a battle, they back off quickly.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, called Brown’sdecision to back off HB 42 the right one.

“It’s always been the right thing to do, to leave (MSA) where itis,” she said. “The taxpayers have already paid for it and it’sfunctioning well, very well. There’s no reason to disrupt thosekids every year.”

There are still chances for a similar bill to be acted on thisyear. The rules could be suspended in the House to allow for theintroduction of new legislation, or MSA could take a seriousfunding hit.

But that’s not likely to happen after HB 42 expires at midnight,said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

“I’d like to thank the chairman for his consideration of theissue and not bringing it out this year. That makes for a goodyear,” he said.