Lawmaker worried about MS education after 2nd round of cuts

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - A South Mississippi legislator says he's concerned about the fallout from school districts being forced to once again slash their budgets. On Friday Governor Haley Barbour announced a new round of cuts including $75 million in education. Representative Richard Bennett of district 120 says no one in state office wants to make cuts but the truth is the money just isn't there and our education system will likely suffer because of it.

When the new Harper McCaughan Elementary opened earlier this month, it seemed the Long Beach School District was finally back on track.

"Long Beach has been devastated by the Katrina," said Bennett. "We already were down in our expenditures per pupil. We were down on our expenditures on administration."

Bennett is a former Long Beach alderman. He says the governor's latest round of cuts will likely create changes in Long Beach classrooms.

"The school board is looking at closing a school this year," he said. "I'm hoping it won't happen but with a second round of these cuts, I think it will happen. I think it will become a reality. I hate to see it because we have a good school district here in Long Beach."

The State Superintendent of Education says the $75 million cut to K-12 comes late in the budget year, and is in addition to the more than $116 million previously cut during this fiscal year.

Rep. Bennett said, "I think it's going to hurt statewide. The reality is that everyone is going to have to buckle down, tighten our belts. The money is not there. There is no doubt that the House of Representatives, the Senate, the legislators, the governor, no one wants to cut but the fact is the money is not there. There is going to have to be cuts. "

Bennett says he's not convinced school consolidation is the answer the Mississippi's budget woes.

He said, "The committee is going to have to show me where it's going to save money. Right now I don't believe it's going to save much money. I don't think consolidation will really help the Gulf Coast. We have good school districts down here and by combining them I don't see where it's going to save much money"

Bennett continues, "In north Mississippi it may be a good thing where there's a lot of districts in one county. A lot of small districts. It may help and it may save some money but as far fast the coast goes I do not believe it's a solution or a help. But I'm willing to have an open mind and look at the numbers."

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