January 30, 2009
JACKSON - The House of Representatives today defeated the bill to move the Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven to Mississippi University for Women.
The bill was aimed at MSA being consolidated with the Mississippi School for Math and Science at MUW to save money.
However, the House voted 73-43 against the legislation after being urged not to renege on a commitment the Legislature has for the five-year-old state art school being in Brookhaven.
"If we move that school, we''re going to break a promise we''ve made to that community," said Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune.
"We have sunk a ton of money into it and, if we move it, we''re going to have to spend a ton of money on that," he said.
However, House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said MSA is too expensive as a stand-alone school. It can be easily merged with MSMS and cost less in the long run, he said.
"We don''t have to spend anything but just put sheets on the beds and move those children up to Columbus," Stringer said.
He has maintained for several years that the MUW campus is better able to accommodate the MSA with MSMS for less expenses than the old Whitworth College campus that''s been MSA''s home since its opening in 2003.
"We''re not closing (MSA). We''re just improving," Stringer said.
Stringer sponsored House Bill 1555 with Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, as part of the budget-cutting efforts lawmakers are making as state government endures one of its worst financial crises in years.
The state arts school has about 130 students and gets about $3 million a year from the Legislature. The math and science school has about 210 students and gets about $5 million.
Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said the state has already invested more than $20 million into upgrading the former college campus for MSA. Moving the arts school away just to save whatever it can of the $3 million-a-year cost of operating is not worth it, she said.
"Do we really want to take a step backward over $3 million?" Currie said.
She said legislators could easily find $3 million of government waste elsewhere that wouldn''t be as disruptive as closing the MSA''s Brookhaven campus.
However, having MSA and MSMS on one campus would surely be less expensive, Brown said. "The administrative cost is the biggest savings," he said.
Brown said he doesn''t know how much less it would be to have the art school with the math-science school.
He said did say MSA has millions of dollars in construction needs that the state can''t afford to pay.
"They say they have a lot of capital expenditures to go forward, and we don''t have the money to do that," Brown said.
The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
The Mississippi School of the Arts opened in 2003 after the state Legislature reluctantly authorized its creation in 1999. Lawmakers have been urged to put it at MUW with the math-science school.
"There''s always been a move to combine it with its logical sister school," said Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus.