Phenix City school supporters clearly have no intention of being left behind in the critical realm of science and technology education. A first-rate STEM Center at Phenix City Intermediate School is the key project among several in a $1.1 million fundraising campaign by an organization called the Friends of Phenix City Schools.
The early returns show that as friends go, these are pretty generous ones: In just the first two weeks since the campaign kickoff, the group is already nearly one-fourth of the way to its goal, the biggest single gift coming in the form of a $150,000 contribution from automobile dealer Gil Dyer.
The STEM Center isn't the only project involved. Expanded athletic facilities for Central High School and the Central Freshman Academy are also part of the agenda.
These public school projects will not, of course, be financed entirely or even primarily with private money. The Phenix City school board last year approved a $10 million-plus bond issue that included, among other expenditures, funds for the Central High expansion and the PCIS Stem Center. But Superintendent Randy Wilkes said the extra money can make a huge difference between "satisfactory" and "excellent" facilities. And he is grateful, he said, who those he calls the "first responders," especially the Dyers, for understanding the importance of these projects: "It says they understand that, if you want to grow a community, if you want to improve the quality of life, if you want to improve the economy, start with education."
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In Alabama, necessity is sometimes the mother of intervention.
The necessity is reform, the intervention that of the U.S. Justice Department in the state's perennial corrections crisis.
The difference this time is that lawmakers are really trying to make a good-faith effort to fix things at the state level. That effort has won them an unlikely ally -- the American Civil Liberties Union.
Alabama prisons currently house about twice the inmates they were designed to accommodate. That creates tense, miserable and dangerous conditions for inmates and prison workers alike. In stifling weather, it's a recipe for spontaneous combustion.
Two bills approved this spring give low-level offenders alternatives to incarceration, and change the probation system to increase supervision and opportunity and decrease recidivism.
The price tag for these reforms, according to chief sponsor Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is about $12 million. That's not much in the context of a state budget, but in Alabama, especially this year, every penny is a political, philosophical, and cultural battle.
The best way to win this one might be to point out what the status quo is already costing. And that price isn't going to go down.