Call-Up of Reserves Raises Problems for Several Districts
In spots around the country, school districts are bracing for an assortment of complications arising from the Persian Gulf crisis that range from finding replacements for faculty members called up for active military duty to ministering to the emotional needs of students whose parents have shipped out.
School officials generally reported last week that they were anticipating few if any disruptions to their educational missions as a result of President Bush's call-up of 49,703 reservists and National Guard troops, the first such move in two decades.
Others have spent the weeks leading up to the new academic year pulling together elaborate plans as a precautionary measure.
In California's Moronga Unified School Distict, where approximately 2,000 of the 9,600 students are military dependents, officials are bracing for a major impact.
"Our mission is to prepare our faculty to deal with death and injury" among students' parents, Joan Burnside, assistant superintendent for educational services, said last week. "I would much rather be overprepared for this and have nothing happen than have chaos in the classroom."
The district--which lies to the east of San Bernadino in the Califorsert, the site of the Twentynine Palms Marine Base--has retained a consultant to instruct teachers in recognizing and handling distress symptoms in students personally affected by the crisis.
In addition, Moronga officials suspended inoculation and residency requirements for entering pupils to ease an already-stressful situation for spouses or students who may have had to move when both parents shipped out.
If Moronga's experience during the Vietnam War is any barometer, Ms. Burnside said, the district can expect enrollment to decline as dependents move away to be near their families if the Marines' overseas assignments are lengthy.
As a result, she said, the district could lose up to $1 million annually in federal impact aid alone.
In Georgia, the Savannah-Chatham County district has set up a support system that includes small-group and individual counseling for any of the 1,552 military dependents there who might need help.
Drawing students from both Hunter Army Air Field and Fort Stewart, the district operates several schools in which military dependents make up a quarter of the student body, according to Diane Paxman, administrative coordinator for guidance and counseling. In one elementary school, 227 out of 470 students are military dependents.
The district also faces the prospect of losing 37 employees to active military duty.
"Any vacancy is a problem for us at this time," said Geri Smith, interim director of personnel. Ten of the staff members affected, she said, are employed in critical teaching and administrative posts.
Hovering over many schools is the uncertainty of what may happen next. The volatile international situation triggered last month by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which has already led to the biggest overseas deployment of U.S. forces since Vietnam, could lead to further call-ups of reserves.
But many districts may lack information on how many employees could potentially be affected.
Before school started this week in Fairfax County, Va., officials tried to figure out how many teachers and administrators might be activated. They soon realized that many reservists and guardsmen would not be on the military-leave request list because they fulfill their annual obligations in the summer.
"We have no idea how many might be under that program," said Burton S. Carnegie, director of support employment and administrative services.
So far, he said, out of a teaching staff of some 9,000, only 3 have asked for military leave. One of them, Stanley D. Jones, a high-school chemistry teacher, was issued his orders on the morning of Aug. 27 to report for duty at 8 A.M. on Aug. 29 at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where he will work as a hospital corpsman.
The limited notice is unlikely to hinder Fairfax, a wealthy suburban district with a large substitute pool. But some experts said small districts and inner-city schools may have to scramble to find substitutes.
"It's the worst time of year, because people [have] taken jobs already," said Jewell Gould, research director for the American Federation of Teachers.
Federal law requires employers to reinstate workers in the same or a comparable job when they return from active duty. Teachers mayome additional protection based on contractual agreements or school-board policy.
"My guess is [such provisions] have been lying dormant for the past 20 years," said John Dunlop, director of collective bargaining and compensation for the National Education Association.
"There were military-leave provisions that were bargained in the initial rounds" of teacher collective bargaining, he said. "If they didn't come up then, everybody coming back from Vietnam probably raised the issue. It probably hasn't been bargained since."
Many of the nation's big-city school systems, such as New York, Miami, New Orleans, and Boston, have such safeguards in their teacher contracts, according to Mr. Gould.
Provisions tend to guarantee tenure rights, credit toward seniority and retirement, and advancement on the salary ladder. The continuation of health benefits for dependents is far less likely, Mr. Gould said.
The AFT official said he was unaware of any provisions that would make up the difference between a teacher's civilian salary and military pay, which typically is lower.
"To drop back to military pay would be pretty much a hardship," he said.
Mr. Jones of Fairfax County said his salary would be cut. "I know it will be less than what I'm making now," he said, "but how much less, I'm not sure."