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Robinson Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Jo Ann Johnson, left, with Gov. Bob Riley, who toured the school in Millbrook.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Robinson Springs Elementary School second-grade teacher Jo Ann Johnson, left, with Gov. Bob Riley, who toured the school in Millbrook.

Riley considers increasing $500 million school bond

MILLBROOK (AP) — Standing in an 80-year-old wooden elementary school building, Gov. Bob Riley said Wednesday he may increase the size of his proposed $500 million bond issue to repair or replace aging, rundown schools.

He said he may be willing to go as high as $750 million, which would be the largest ever issued by Alabama.

Riley, who proposed a $500 million bond issue during last year's campaign, commented during a visit to Robinson Springs Elementary School in Millbrook. A $750 million bond issue has been suggested by Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove. But Riley said he wants to make sure the state can afford to a bond issue of that size.

"The exact number is going to depend on what it will cost to pay it back. Based on preliminary numbers I've seen, it will be closer to $750 million than $500 million," Riley said.

Mitchem said later that he believes the state, with a $6 billion education budget, can afford at least a $750 million bond issue, which would be paid back over 20 years with interest. He said he may also suggest that the state use some of the more than $400 million in surplus accounts to supplement the funds from the bond issue.

"It seems more feasible to go ahead and take care of the needs now," Mitchem said. "Think about how much more this might cost in the future."

Establishing details

Mitchem said he plans to try to meet with Riley in hopes that they will go into the regular session, beginning March 6, in agreement on the size and details of the bond issue. He said most lawmakers seem to agree on the need for the repair and building funds.

Riley used his visit to the sprawling 560-student elementary school in Millbrook, one of the fastest growing communities in the state, to highlight the repair and construction needs of the state's schools. At Robinson Elementary, students are scattered across six buildings, including the original wooden schoolhouse built in 1926, and in most cases must go outside into the cold, rain or heat to go to lunch or the rest room.

In a cramped second grade classroom, Riley traded high fives with excited pupils and asked teacher Jo Ann Johnson about the needs of the school.

Johnson said the school needs a science lab where she could conduct experiments and show students how science works. She also said the classrooms are too small, particularly when she tries to divide her students into groups.

Riley said the problem is not just aging schools like Robinson Springs, but trying to keep up with the fast growing population in suburban areas like Elmore County and Limestone County.

"We have one school in Limestone County that was just built last year and they are already having to put in portable classrooms to keep up with the growth," Riley said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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