Riley: School systems should get $200,000-plus for construction, repairs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 5, 2006

With the shape Demopolis’ Tiger Field is in, the need for renovation or replacement is pretty obvious.

What’s never been obvious, though, is the source of the money to pay for the multi-million dollar project.

Gov. Bob Riley may have just the answer to that often-asked question.

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Riley announced Wednesday that he plans to ask the Legislature to approve a $500 million bond issue that would give every school system in the state more than $200,000 for school renovations, repairs or building, “capital outlay,” in the bureaucratese of education.

“This $500 million is one-time money and it will be used wisely and responsibly on these one-time expenses,” Riley said of the plan, which will be split equally between K-12 schools and the higher education system.

In the Black Belt area, the Hale County, Sumter County and Demopolis City school systems would get the largest outlay, based on their larger Average Daily Attendance. ADM is the average of students that attend a school system in the first 40 days of school.

Demopolis City School Superintendent Dr. Wesley Hill said his system is in good shape physically.

“We don’t have any major capital issues like roofing, electrical problems or heating and cooling issues,” Hill said of the system’s four campuses: Demopolis High, Demopolis Middle and U.S. Jones and Westside elementary schools.

Due to two federally funded, interest-free loans the system was awarded in the last four years, he said, DCS is “ahead of the game” in keeping up the condition of its schools. Aside from some paint and tile he’d like to replace, and the technological updates every school covets, there’s just one area in the system’s capital outlay plan that needs addressing: the stadium.

“The bottom line is it’ll speed up our plan; we’d continue to be ahead of the game, instead of falling behind,” Hill said.

System administrators presented an engineer’s sketch of a new Tiger Stadium leaders would like to see built on land adjacent to Demopolis High School on U.S. Highway 80 to the Demopolis City Council last month.

“On capital outlay, we’re mostly thinking about the stadium,” Hill said. “We have several ways we can go, but we are, in comparison, better off here on buildings than we have been since I’ve been here.”

Though there have been disagreements about the stadium plan, Hill said, they’ve mostly been disputes between proponents of an all-new facility on the U.S. 80 site and those who favor renovating the current Cedar Street location.

“We haven’t put any money in (the stadium) for years,” he said. “What I’ve been hearing is a concern for improvements. The debate comes in how it should be done. Personally, I’m in favor of a new facility, then we can use that land for Demopolis Middle School.”

In Riley’s appropriations proposal, funding levels for each school system are set by a formula, his office said, so there is no hint of politics involved in the distribution of the $500 million. Each system will receive a minimum of $200,000. Additional allocations above that are based upon a system’s student population.

“There are tremendous needs in every school system in Alabama,” Riley said. “We should direct this one-time appropriation to address those needs without raising taxes, incurring debt or spending it on recurring expenses.”

To help make the case for his sweeping proposal, Riley on Wednesday began circulating to legislators a list of how much funding each school system in Alabama will receive.

The governor’s proposal divides $250 million among public K-12 systems. The other $250 million is divided among two-year colleges, four-year universities, K-12 schools damaged by natural disasters, school systems that want to consolidate schools, and other needs.

Every school system in the state will benefit under Riley’s proposal, he said.

The funds can be used by school systems for new construction, building repairs and upgrades, and to pay down debt school systems incurred from previous construction projects.

Riley will formally introduce his school construction plan when the Legislature begins the 2006 regular session next week.

The governor will deliver the annual State of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. to a joint session of the Legislature at the State Capitol.