Riley: schools can do better

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Gov. Bob Riley visited Thompson Middle School on Thursday to promote his plan to borrow at least $500 million for new school construction.

Shelby County School Superintendent Randy Fuller gave the governor a tour of the Alabaster school, one of the county&8217;s most crowded, and stressed what more money would mean to the booming system.

&8220;According to the amount of money you give us, the options are wide,&8221; Fuller told Riley. &8220;We&8217;ll build a new school if the community growth is enough.&8221;

Thompson Middle School opened in 1999 with about 900 students. Since then, the school has grown to 1,400 students and added 22 portable classrooms. The system uses a total of 170 trailers countywide.

&8220;We have to add these [portables] with 1,000 new students a year,&8221; said Fuller. &8220;And without additional funding, we won&8217;t have anything to do but add more portables.&8221;

Fuller estimates the county will have to add 45 portables next year, including another 10 at Thompson Middle.

Riley hopes his proposed bond issue will help alleviate overcrowding in growing systems, like Shelby County.

&8220;Throughout the state, many areas are having a hard time accommodating the need for more space and maintenance,&8221; said Riley. &8220;We can do better than this.&8221;

Last fall, Riley campaigned for a $500 million bond issue to fund new construction at public schools and two-year colleges and universities.

While it&8217;s not clear exactly how much money Shelby County stands to gain, the governor has said each system should receive a flat amount and then bonuses based on enrollment.

&8220;It&8217;s my contention that funding will be based solely on student population,&8221; said Riley. &8220;That way you take politics completely out of the equation. We have to make it proportional and fair.&8221;

Fuller said without the bond issue and additional money, Shelby County will continue to lease portables, which cost around $5,000 a year.

&8220;That&8217;s money we could be spending on something else,&8221; said Fuller. &8220;That&8217;s money we could put into construction of other classrooms.&8221;

Principal Nicke Gasper said new construction at Thompson Middle is inevitable.

&8220;Every time we add another trailer, it squeezes what is on the inside,&8221; he said. &8220;Our restrooms, cafeteria and infrastructure were designed to handle 1,100 students.&8221;