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County Schools may miss deadline

to be rid of portable classes

By BETH LAKEY

Staff Writer

Aug. 31, 2000 10 PM

As it stands, now, Pike County schools may not make the deadline to rid campuses of portable classrooms.

The state is scheduled to eliminate a total of 2,600 portables by August 2001 and all instructional portables ­ except those in Mobile and Tuscaloosa ­ are supposed to be removed by January 2002.

But, Pike County Schools Superintendent John Key doesn’t know how that will be possible because of the lack of the key element ­ money.

When Gov. Don Siegelman first mandated the elimination of portable classrooms, the county school system had 15, but only got credit for 13, Key said.

"We didn’t get enough to do that," Key said of ridding the campuses of all the portables.

Also, Pike County is caught between what the federal courts mandate and what the state is telling the system to do.

In the meantime, the school system is doing what it can, such as replacing roofs.

"We’re still assessing where we are," Key said, adding that total elimination of portable classrooms "will never happen" because "you can’t keep up" with changes in population.

Key also said a shortage of funds has left some of the classrooms in the school system in such terrible shape that portable classrooms are a good alternative.

"They’re some of the best classrooms we have in our system," he said.

Since Siegelman took office, more than 1,460 portables have been removed from Alabama school campuses ­ a significant decrease than the more than 3,500 portables that existed when he took office.

"My first act as governor was to sign an executive order directing the removal of substandard portable classrooms from our schools," Siegelman said.

His plan is to have "bricks and mortar and new schools" that will serve "as monuments to our state’s commitment to education. I do not want children, Alabama’s future, going to school and having to learn in portable-substandard classrooms. Quality education demands classrooms that are conducive to critical learning."

When Siegelman was Alabama’s lieutenant governor, he was unsuccessful in getting legislation that called for a bond issue to remove portable classrooms passed. At that time, he said portables were growing like kudzu throughout the state and were symbols to the previous administration’s indifference to education.

Today, 1,246 portable classrooms have been removed from Alabama campuses and 204 others have been eliminated through rezoning, grade structure changes and utilization of existing permanent space.