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Defense Schools' Hiring Policies Eyed

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Washington--Legislation pending in the Congress would remove some advantages the spouses of federal employees--particularly those in the military--have in competing for teaching positions in Defense Department schools overseas.

The measure would effectively open up more jobs, in more desirable locations, for other teachers.

Current law requires that positions at the 270 Department of Defense Dependent Schools, which enroll about 151,000 students, be filled with teachers who apply in the United States through a competitive Civil Service process.

A 1972 executive order gives priority for these and other Defense Department jobs overseas to the qualified spouses of federal employees stationed in the area. A 1985 law extended a stronger preference to military spouses, who now make up 20 to 30 percent of all overseas teachers.

But most of the spouses were not hired through the usual lengthy application process. They were instead hired after they arrived at their foreign posts, under a provision allowing administrators to fill positions locally on a temporary basis.

'Local Hires' Favored

According to testimony at a Congressional hearing last week, many of these teachers are rehired year after year, and slots are often filled with "local hires" even when Civil Service applicants are available. In addition, local hires sometimes take positions in desirable areas away from teachers already in the overseas school system who want to transfer.

The bill, HR 3424, sponsored by Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, would ensure that transfer applicants receive preference for all openings, and that local hires are considered only for vacancies not filled through the Civil Service process.

The bill would also limit local hires' employment to one year, with an exception for military spouses. The temporary teachers would be able to compete for a permanent job by applying through the Civil Service process from overseas.

The measure would also grant permanent status to current "temporaries" and make those with three years' service eligible for the living allowance and other benefits available to Civil Service teachers.

Balancing Interests

It "balances new benefits for current" temporaries against "a tightening of the rules," Mr. Ford said at a joint hearing of the Education and Labor Committee and the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, which he chairs.

John Stremple, director of the Defense Department schools, said he was "apprehensive" about the proposed changes in hiring rules, because "the present approach gives us a degree of freedom" and "there is no evidence that the people we recruit overseas are of lesser quality'' than Civil Service applicants.

Mr. Stremple initially contended that military spouses are hired only if they are just as qualified, but later admitted that local teachers are often hired before the credentials of "stateside" applicants are considered.

Sydney Hickey, governmental re8lations director for the National Military Family Association, agreed that transfer applicants should have first priority, but protested that "the military wife is being given the absolute lowest priority."

Because the Civil Service process takes so long and military families are transferred so frequently, she said, military spouses who are teachers cannot participate, and giving local hires a low priority and temporary status would "block" those spouses from "a major source of employment."

Ms. Hickey also argued that "military spouses who are teachers are experienced in the unique military lifestyle," which allows them to understand the special needs of their students. Hiring them also saves a substantial amount of money in the form of benefits and moving expenses, she added.

Mr. Ford insisted that retaining teachers who would make a career of overseas teaching is a higher priority.

Military Preference Excoriated

Representatives of the American Foreign Service Association, the Overseas Education Association, and the Overseas Federation of Teachers protested that allowing military spouses to teach more than a year as temporaries but not the spouses of other overseas employees is "blatantly inequitable."

The existing military preferences were instituted to make it easier to recruit and retain military personnel, Mr. Ford said, adding that if the State Department has a similar problem, it should make a similar request.

Both union representatives applauded the idea of giving transfer applicants top priority and the extension of permanent status to current temporary teachers.

But while the o.f.t. president, Marie Sainz-Funaro, agreed that Civil Service applicants should have first priority, the o.e.a. president,Jack Rollins, backed the employee spouses' argument that local teachers should be hired first.

Both opposed a provision that would disqualify spouses from teaching when they divorce the sponsoring federal employee or the employee dies.

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