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Mergers Urged for Military-Base Schools

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WASHINGTON--The General Accounting Office suggested in a report released last week that three San Antonio school districts located on military bases should consider merging with surrounding districts.

The districts, among only six nationwide that are wholly within military installations and serve only military dependents, are anticipating significant deficits over the next few years because of changes in funding rules made by the Education Department in 1985.

Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Democrat of Texas, in 1986 asked the Congressional investigatory agency to evaluate the "reasonableness'' of the funding cuts, the magnitude of the problems they would create, and alternatives to ensure that the government meets its obligation to support military personnel.

The G.A.O. report concludes that the reductions in aid "are reasonable and appropriate,'' and have "brought the districts in line with payments to other federally impacted districts in states with similar education spending patterns.''

The schools, located on the Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Field, and Lackland military bases, receive 47.7 percent of their revenue from federal impact aid; state and some local funding provides the rest.

Comparability Questioned

Prior to the rule change, payments to the three school districts were determined based on the expenditure levels of 10 comparable districts.

But according to the report, the 10 districts chosen by those schools for comparison spent more than twice as much as the average Texas district.

Beginning with the 1985-86 school year, the Education Department, contending that many impact-aid districts were selecting districts for comparison solely on the basis of high expenditure levels in order to obtain higher payment rates, tightened the rules for selecting comparable districts.

The new regulations resulted in drastically reduced payments for the three military districts; the reductions are being phased in under a "hold harmless'' provision of the new rules.

The superintendents of the three districts, the G.A.O. report notes, disagreed with its conclusion that they should consider consolidation with nearby school systems as a way of solving their fiscal problems.

Saying that in the 1960's nearby public schools became overcrowded and refused to educate students from the military posts, the officials argued that the same situation could arise again.

They also contended, according to the report, that unlike other "Super A'' districts--some of whose families both live and work on federal installations--their on-base schools have no tax base at all and thus should be funded under different ground rules.

"At a time when the attention of the entire nation is focused on the problems of our education system,'' Senator Bentsen said last week, "it does not make sense to even think about eliminating school districts like these that are consistently among the top in the state in academic performance.''--R.R.W.

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