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Work on PCHS to begin

There is never a dull moment when it comes to efficiently running a school system, but 2013 will be even busier than normal for Franklin County Schools, especially with the challenge of rebuilding one school, trying to maintain a budget and attain financial stability.
Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams announced recently that construction will officially begin tomorrow on the new Phil Campbell High School.
That news was not only music to the ears of Phil Campbell residents but to Williams and the rest of the school board who have been anxiously awaiting this day for over a year.
“We are more than ready to see construction finally start taking place,” Williams said.
“This will be a great day for Phil Campbell and will take us one step closer to getting the students and teachers out of those mobile units and back into a school building that is safer and will provide a better environment for them to grow and learn.”
Williams said construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months, and they hope to begin using the facilities as early as August of 2014 or early 2015 at the latest.
Williams said the process to get the school back on its feet began shorty after the E-F5 tornado ransacked the old school on April 27, 2011, but he and the school board have faced numerous obstacles in the process.
“It has been a frustrating experience trying to secure funding to build back Phil Campbell High,” Williams said.
“Insurance did not cover adequately what we needed; they wanted to salvage some of the older buildings and we wanted to condemn all the buildings and build completely new ones; FEMA delayed the process by requiring a historical study; we had to go to the state of Alabama to ask for more funding; then, when we were finally able to bid the new school, the bid was out of our budget so we had to go back to the drawing board to reduce items to fit our budget, all the while we were getting the site cleaned up and prepared for the mobile units that the faculty, staff and students are now housed in.
“I am in no way complaining in saying all this, but knowing what all we have gone through, I hope everyone can understand that myself and the rest of the board are completely invested in seeing this project though to the end, and I hope that will be one of the crowning moments of this next term.
“We are moving forward and I believe we will have a very nice school at Phil Campbell that everyone will be proud of.”
The new school in Phil Campbell will be one of the main focuses in 2013, but Williams and the rest of the school board will also have to focus on the school system’s financial situation, which has been a burden in recent years because of state-mandated proration in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The Franklin County School System began fiscal year 2012-2013 with a balance of negative $5 million, and Williams said in the upcoming year and for the rest of his tern, he and the school board would work diligently to pull the system out of debt.
“Attaining financial stability is probably the most difficult challenge our system will face in the next few years,” Williams said. “We have made great strides in this area but we are still suffering from those three years of proration.
“Thankfully, the economy seems to have picked up slightly, which will help our state budget, but locally, the citizens of Franklin County helped our school system greatly by passing the one-cent sales tax for education. This one-cent tax has allowed us to make our debt payments and pay our employees.”
Even though outside funding has been and will continue to be a great help financially, Williams and the school board have also had to make difficult decisions about where internal changes could be made.
“We’ve tried to cut back where we can and we have had to make numerous cuts in personnel over the past four years as well as other cuts,” Williams said. “While we were informing the citizens of the need for the one-cent sales tax, we heard over and over, ‘You need to cut the fat,’ and this is exactly what we have done, and I believe this has had a positive impact on our financial condition.”
Williams said even though this past year has been full of challenges, he has seen how the school system’s employees have worked together and made big achievements as well and he looks for more of the same in 2013.
“No matter what the problem seemed to be, our employees have pulled together and performed above and beyond the call of duty,” Williams said.
“All of our schools individually as well as the system as a whole have met AYP goals, and all of our schools have met the standards and are district-wide accredited through AdvancED.
“I am proud of the accomplishments that our employees have made and the direction that our system is headed in 2013 even through such adverse times.”
Williams said in the coming year and for the remainder of his term, the top priority for the Franklin County School System will remain the same as is has been – to make sure the students are educated to the best of the system’s ability.
“We have to prepare those who want to go on to college as well as those who want to learn a trade and go into the workforce – this is our ultimate goal,” he said.
“We have five board members who want to help make this a reality and make our schools the best they we can be. These board members are dedicated to helping the schools and working together to try to reach our goals.
“I look forward to working with our employees and students in this upcoming year to make the education process enjoyable and beneficial for everyone involved.”