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District To Charge Tuition of West Point Dependents

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A New York school board has decided to charge tuition for children who live at the U.S. Army's most prestigious installation--the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The unanimous vote by the governing board of the Highland Falls Central School District last week means that everyone who lives and works at the base will have to pay the district $582 annually for the education of each of their dependents.

Bruce Crowder, superintendent of the district, said that "the school board didn't feel good about taking this action," but felt forced to do so in order to offset the drastic reductions in federal impact-aid payments to the school system.

The Reagan Administration has asked the Congress to appropriate $287 million in fiscal 1983 for the program, which was created to assist local school districts whose ability to levy taxes has been limited by the presence of large federal instal-lations. In the fiscal years 1981 and 1982, the program was funded at $681 million and $455 million, respectively.

According to Mr. Crowder, the school district "has already done all the belt-tightening that it can" as a result of impact-aid cuts.

Only 7 percent of the property in the school district is taxable, he said, because the remainder belongs to the federal government.

"As it stands right now we already have the highest tax rate in all of Orange County," Mr. Crowder said. "If we raise taxes any more, it's almost certain that we'll be facing a tax revolt here."

Approximately 25 percent of the district's instructional employees have been laid off over the last year "and our enrollment hasn't changed much at all over the same period," he said.

"We've cut back purchases of instructional materials by about the same degree."

Despite those economy moves, he continued, the district still faces a deficit of approximately $140,000 for the current school year.

In fiscal 1979, federal impact-aid payments totaling $660,000 represented approximately 20 percent of the district's budget, Mr. Crowder said. In the current fiscal year, the district estimates that its impact-aid allocation will be just shy of $300,000, covering only 5 percent of its $4.9-million budget.

Total Enrollment

Approximately 19 percent of the district's total enrollment is made up of children from the installation, Mr. Crowder said. In the district's only high school, which has an enrollment of 635, 36 percent of the students come from West Point.

Mr. Crowder said parents living at West Point will receive tuition notices on Nov. 1. If the parents fail to pay, a second notice will be mailed to them on Nov. 15, and if those notices go unheeded, the district will "take legal action against the parents in order to collect the tuition."

Children will not be barred from attending classes if their parents fail to pay up, Mr. Crowder said.

"We take no pleasure whatsoever even talking about taking legal action against the parents," he continued. "We have worked very closely with the people at West Point, and they are behind us. They realize that we're fighting for them. And we plan to fight like heck."

Mr. Crowder concedes that the fight may eventually end up in the federal courts. The Justice Department took legal action late last month against a North Carolina school board that decided to charge military personnel at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base for the education of their children. Justice Department officials could not be reached for comment last week on the Highland Falls tuition plan.

"We strongly suspect that they will try to take us to court, too, but there's really very little that we can do about that," Mr. Crowder said.

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