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Schools to receive more funds next year

During the annual State of the State address on Tuesday night, Gov. Kay Ivey announced a plan to disperse $1 billion to Alabama schools and also announced a planned pay raise for teachers.

Dr. Mark Bazzell, Pike County School superintendent, said superintendents from around the state heard more on what to expect during the legislative session at a conference this week in Montgomery.

“They talked about the $1 billion capital bond issue, which would certainly be a boost for us in Pike County as we are getting cranked up to do a capital project out in Banks,” Bazzell said. “We’re hoping based on calculations we’ve seen that it will be about $2 million for Pike County Schools in capital improvements. That will certainly be helpful.”

Dr. Lee Hicks, Troy City Schools superintendent, said the estimates are that the schools will be receiving 150 to 200 percent of capital funding compared to what they received from the state last year.

“Last year we received $511,000, which just came through in September or October,” Hicks said. “We’re looking at doing some major security upgrades at Troy Elementary School with previous funding as well. We’ve already met with architects and we’re waiting to see when this new funding will come in as well. We’ve already added cameras to all campuses.”

Hicks said the money can take time to come in and that most construction projects are done during the summer, so it may still be some time before that money is able to be invested at the school.

“I’ve briefed the board on it and we are working to get a plan together to possibly get moving this summer with the previous money and work with the capital planning committee to see other ways we can improve our campuses in technology and security,” Hicks said.

Ivey also announced plans to give all state teachers a 3 percent pay raise, which both Hicks and Bazzell praised as teachers are always deserving of raises.

Bazzell said the state is also discussing another issue that might impact teachers.

“Several years ago, there were modifications made to the retirement system that made it less attractive than other states and I think that contributed somewhat to the teacher shortage that we have,” Bazzell said. “Hopefully there will be a fix to the retirement system. Right now you have ‘Tier 1’ employees who have been around a while. ‘Tier 2’ are the employees who fell under the modified, less-attractive retirement option. Hopefully, the legislature is going to introduce a more attractive ‘Tier 3.’”

One of the most exciting things to come out of the conference, Bazzell said, is the possibility of funding for mental health specialists in schools.

“Counselors are primarily registrars; they spend most of their time managing the academic piece with school records,” Bazzell said. “It restricts the amount of time for actually counseling students. With this funding, we hope to have mental health specialist in the schools whether though interagency agreements or direct employment of mental health professionals.”

Troy City Schools officials have also discussed interest in receiving state funding for mental health specialists in the system.

Legislative leaders have also discussed increased funding for the state’s highly-praise pre-school program as well as other potential increases.

“At the beginning of these sessions, you walk cautiously to see what actually passes and what doesn’t,” Hicks said. “But it sounds good.”

“It sounds like everybody is on the same page; we just have to see how the session goes,” Bazzell said. “The economy is going well and there’s a lot of money in Montgomery right now, which is always a good thing. We are making sure it gets into the classrooms where it makes a difference for students.”