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Gov. Bob Riley at Thompson Middle School in Alabaster. At the middle school, Riley stepped through rain puddles to walk through the maze of portable classrooms parked outside. In one, 30 students sat at desks that were packed so tightly it was difficult to walk among them.
AP photo by Bernard Troncale
Gov. Bob Riley at Thompson Middle School in Alabaster. At the middle school, Riley stepped through rain puddles to walk through the maze of portable classrooms parked outside. In one, 30 students sat at desks that were packed so tightly it was difficult to walk among them.

Riley focuses on rolls, not growth
Governor wants to distribute bond based on current numbers of students

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

ALABASTER — Gov. Bob Riley said Thursday he wants to distribute money from a proposed education bond issue based mainly on how many students are enrolled in a school system, not on how quickly systems are growing.

Each of the state's 131 school systems would get a base amount of money to construct and expand schools, Riley said during a stop at Thompson Middle School, which has 22 portable classrooms and nearly 1,400 students on a campus designed for about 1,000 children.

But school systems would also get an additional share of funding based on their enrollment following a census of students, Riley said.

"That way you take politics out of the equation," said Riley, who estimated the amount of the bond sale at $500 million or more.

At the middle school, Riley stepped through rain puddles to walk through the maze of portable classrooms parked outside. In one, 30 students sat at desks that were packed so tightly it was difficult to walk among them.

Shelby County Superintendent Randy Fuller said that, without construction funds, as many as 40 more trailers will have to be leased systemwide at a cost of as much as $7,000 annually per classroom.

"We need classrooms in Shelby County," said Fuller.

Citing his rural home county of Clay, Riley said money is needed to replace buildings like the century-old school he attended as a boy.

But systems like Shelby County — which is big and growing at a rate of 1,000 students annually — need additional assistance, he said.

"We have to make this proportionate, we have to make this fair for everyone in the state," said Riley. Funds can't be portioned out by growth, he said, because "you can't anticipate."

AEA

Teacher lobbyist Paul Hubbert said the Alabama Education Association would support Riley's method of doling out the funds.

"That's the way it's normally been done in the past," said Hubbert.

"Every system needs to get enough to add at least a classroom or two."

Money should be allocated over time, Hubbert said, and systems should be allowed to pay off old construction debt with bond money. Hubbert said he expected the bond issue to involve between $500 million and $1 billion by the time it's done.

"Bond issues tend to drift upward once they're introduced," said Hubbert. "I expect it would be near the higher end."

Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, has suggested a $750 million bond issue, but Riley said he wants to make sure the state can afford to repay that much debt.

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

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