January 29, 2009
Amid the bleak winter of our economy, governments are right and prudent to hunker down and seek out ways to cut costs.
That''s why two members of the Mississippi House of Representatives are promoting a bill to move the Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven to Mississippi University for Women and consolidate MSA with the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.
Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, and Education Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, see the consolidation as a way to save the state some money in lean economic times.
It costs $21,800 annually for housing and education per student at MSA and $17,745 at MSMS, according to state Department of Education 2006 figures. Students must pay $500 a semester to attend the schools. MSA, which has about 130 students, receives about $3 million a year from the state, while MSMS, with about 210 students, receives about $5 million.
Relocating MSA to Columbus and merging it with MSMS "just makes sense," Brown says. "We need the school," he added, referring to MSA, "and we''ve got a great facility in Columbus."
Certainly, the possibility of merging the state''s two gifted schools bears close scrutiny. It''s an idea this newspaper suggested five years ago, to strong opposition from Brookhaven and MSA officials.
Likewise, Stringer''s and Brown''s bill also has drawn fire from the same quarters. MSA Director Vicki Lambert vehemently opposes any plans to move her school to Columbus. Instead, she argues, "Why don''t you move MSMS to Brookhaven?"
She cited the different missions of the schools and the fact that the state already owns the Brookhaven campus. However, the state also owns the MUW campus, which has ample space to house the additional students.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 1555, calls for relocating the arts school to MUW but maintaining it as a separate entity from MSMS, which has been operating at The W since 1988. If the move is made, keeping the two institutions separate within the campus is the right idea. Lambert is correct about the different missions, and the student bodies are likewise quite different.
MUW President Claudia Limbert supports the relocation and says the university would welcome the arts students if the Legislature decides to send them to Columbus.
MUW''s Vice President for Finance and Administration Nora Miller says, while it would require some renovation, The W could accommodate the merger. "It would be a great match," said Miller. "Here we have 24/7 security, a health center and a library."
The MSA students would have much to gain from their proximity to one of the state''s best collegiate arts programs. MUW recently reopened its renovated arts building, which was gutted by a tornado several years ago. Certainly, Brookhaven has nothing that comes close to the MUW arts facility and faculty. MSA students currently take their English and fine arts classes on the MSA campus but travel to Brookhaven High School to take their science and math classes. If they were at MUW, the MSA students could take their science and math classes at MSMS.
Founded in 2003 on the old Whitworth College campus in Brookhaven, MSA still faces several expensive construction projects, Brown said. By moving the school, those expenditures would not be necessary.
There are obvious merits to House Bill 1555, but the plan should be thoroughly researched before making any decision to uproot MSA and move it north.