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Reaching out: Gov. Bob Riley gets in touch with Creekside Elementary first-grader Chance Kelly during Friday's visit to the Limestone school.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Reaching out: Gov. Bob Riley gets in touch with Creekside Elementary first-grader Chance Kelly during Friday's visit to the Limestone school.

Riley sees fight
over bond funds

Governor wants minimum amount
for each school system fixed

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

CAPSHAW — On Friday, Gov. Bob Riley high-fived kindergartners, got a Ground Hog Day sticker from a teacher and posed for photographs with grinning students.

If only dealing with the state Legislature were that easy.

While touring Creekside Elementary in eastern Limestone County, Riley said he expects political wrangling over a proposed $500 million-plus bond issue for education. Riley said the squabble will be between legislators who want money for growing schools like Creekside and those who want money for aging facilities. Some legislators put emphasis on rural areas with 100-year-old schools, he said.

Riley wants to set a minimum amount for school systems to receive and then divide the remainder between systems based on student population.

"If you don't do that," Riley said, "people in the Legislature with more pull will get a disproportionate amount of money."

Riley said the amount of the bond will be $500 million or more, depending on interest rates. Higher education also will get a share. The Alabama Commission on Higher Education has asked for 40 percent, Riley said.

"My point is, we have areas like Limestone County and Madison County who are literally building facilities and outgrowing them," Riley said.

That growth, Riley and Limestone school officials said, is without the anticipated influx of families from the federal Base Realignment and Closure process, which is bringing workers to Redstone Arsenal.

"Your need is just as great here," Riley said.

Creekside opened in 2000 and added three portable buildings this year. Built for 835 students, it has 932. Principal Matt Scott said Creekside averages 50 new students a year. With BRAC, that number will increase, but by how much is unknown.

Superintendent Barry Carroll said the Limestone County system has 8,550 students, and he predicts in five years that number will soar above 10,000.

"If you've already filled the building, the state needs to participate in addressing the growth," Riley said. "When you know (growth) is going to happen, you need to get ready."

For systems looking at consolidation instead of expansion, such as Lawrence County's, Riley said, he wants a consolidation funding pool in the bond issue.

However, that money, Riley said, even combined with local funds, won't cover the cost of consolidation for some systems.

Lawrence County Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said earlier this week that state officials told him the bond issue wouldn't cover the cost of a new high school for his system. A new school is a requirement for any of the three consolidation plans the Lawrence County Board of Education is considering.

The board will host a countywide forum at 6 p.m. Monday at the A.W. Todd Coliseum in Moulton to discuss consolidation. The forum will follow the regularly scheduled board meeting at 5.

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