toolbar powered by Conduit

Friday, January 2, 2009

Officials Hoping Obama Can Provide School Funds

By Tom Smith
Senior Staff Writer Times Daily Florence, Alabama

No one can say Lawrence County Executive Paul Rosson is guilty of giving up on a cause he believes in.

That's why he and other members of the Lawrence County Commission are preparing to travel to Washington in mid-January.

"We have got to do something about our schools," Rosson said. "We've got portable classrooms that are falling down that need to be replaced, but there isn't money for that, so I'm looking for answers and help."

Rosson and other members of county government are planning a trip to Washington Jan. 14 and 15 to meet with the area's congressional delegation and discuss the possibility of getting their foot in the door for some of President-elect Barak Obama's stimulus money.

"There has been some discussion about using a part of the stimulus package for schools. I'd be more than willing for them to use that money right here in Lawrence County," Rosson said.

County officials say there are at least 21 portable classrooms at South Lawrence Elementary School in Loretto and New Prospect Elementary School in Lawrenceburg that should be replaced.

"Some of these portable classrooms are 24 years old; they're falling apart," Rosson said. "And there are all sorts of health and quality issues that go with these structures."

In August, Lawrence County Schools Director Bill Heath closed four of 10 portable classrooms at South Lawrence Elementary after he got the results from air quality tests he ordered in July.

Officials said each of the classrooms had mold and were shut down permanently.

Rosson and county commissioners have been trying different avenues to find the funding to replace the portable structures but so far everything has failed.

They started with an effort to get the state of Tennessee to use a portion of the proceeds from the Tennessee Lottery to fund classroom renovations. When those requests fell on death ears, officials proposed a wheel-tax increase that would have raised enough money to retire a $10 million bond issue for school improvements. County residents, however, voted down that proposal in November.

Rosson said asking Congress for help is the last step before having to increase property taxes, something that the county commission doesn't want to have to do unless it's the last hope.

"We're almost at that point right now," Rosson said. "The issue at hand, and the most pressing that this county is going to face in years to come, is to get the students out of these old dilapidated portable classrooms.

"The solution to the problem is easy. Build new classrooms. The problem is funding. To me, this is one of the priorities for 2009."