The Picayune School District is among those making tough money choices this year. The Junior High's gifted program could be the latest casualty.
Leslie Lincoln has spent 16 years teaching Picayune's highest achievers in the 7th and 8th grade. She says challenging gifted students is just as important as helping special needs students.
"By the same right that any other exceptional education student needs a program to meet their level, gifted students are the same way on the other end of the spectrum. I don't want to sound elitist, but they are most likely the ones that are going to be leading our country in the future." '
Eighth grade student Makon Cline began the gifted program in the third grade.
"It gives us a chance to learn things that we don't get to learn in other classes. Creative problem solving and, like, critical thinking."
Chase Porter has been involved in the gifted program for six years. Now he takes advanced courses as a high school senior.
But the gifted program is an education bonus. It's not a state requirement at the junior high level.
Dr. Penny Wallin says tough times mean tough choices.
"Parents were not happy. There were about 10 to 12 parents who came to our board meeting. They were passionate, they were angry and we listened to them talk. Then I said, 'I'm not the enemy. I'm directed to try to save money for this district.'"
Dr. Wallin is worried the district could face up to a million dollars in cuts. Eliminating the gifted program will save $55,000 at a time when the budget is still unknown.
"The legislators and the Governor did not, in mass, take a stand to ensure that the children of this state are going to be educated fully next year. So that's very distressing and disturbing."
Picayune is exploring all money saving options. The school board has instituted a hiring freeze district-wide and is working to keep all current employees.