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New Round of Base Closures Proposed; Districts Brace for Loss of Aid, Students

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WASHINGTON--Secretary of Defense Les Aspin this month announced the proposed third round of domestic military-base closures and realignments in five years, a move that sent school districts that serve children living on or near the bases scrambling to figure out how they will cope with the expected drop in enrollment and loss of federal aid.

California, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia would be hit particularly hard under the plan, which next faces review by an independent commission.

The Orange County, Fla., district, for example, is at risk of losing more than 1,900 students and $850,000 in federal impact aid as a result of the proposed closing of a naval air station and a naval hospital in the area, Diane Taylor, a spokeswoman for the 110,000-student district, said last week.

What may be worse, she said, is the loss of volunteers and mentors from the military. The Orange County district, which serves Orlando, has relied heavily on such help, she said.

"They are probably our most active and significant partner in education,'' Ms. Taylor said.

Mr. Aspin's plan would also affect districts that receive additional students over the next several years as a result of the consolidation of military facilities.

"What we'll try to do is encourage those that are on the list to, first of all, not panic,'' John Forkenbrock, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, said.

The association is analyzing the districts that expect reductions or increases in students, he said, and it hopes to convene officials of the affected districts at its spring conference next month. The session would be a chance for administrators whose districts are already involved in the first two rounds of closings to give their colleagues advice on what to expect logistically, financially, and socially.

"You've got to prepare them for it,'' Mr. Forkenbrock said.

Districts that enroll children connected to military bases--students whose parents live or work on a base--receive a payment of federal impact aid in lieu of property taxes for the education of those children.

July 1 Deadline

In a letter and report to former U.S. Rep. James Courter of New Jersey, who chairs the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Secretary Aspin recommended closing 31 major bases; the realignment of 12 others; and the closure, realignment, or relocation of 122 smaller bases.

The commission has until July 1 to scrutinize the list and make adjustments to it. President Clinton then will have two weeks to accept that list or return it to the commission for revision. If the President accepts the list, Congress must approve or reject it, without making changes, within 45 days.

Secretary Aspin said the closings will cause short-term economic hardships to the communities involved, but will save $4 billion through fiscal 1999 and $3.1 annually after that.

With the 170 closures and alignments announced in 1988 and 1991, he said, there will be a total of $5.6 billion in annual savings after fiscal 1999. The domestic base structure will be reduced by 15 percent once the closings are completed, Mr. Aspin said, and more closings could be needed in the coming years.

He said that $80 million would be set aside this year to assist communities affected by the process.

In past years, Congress has approved special funding for school districts affected by base closures. But it remains unclear whether it will do so this year.

DODDS Closings

Mr. Aspin, noting that actual closings of bases did not begin until two years ago, said in the letter to Mr. Courter that he hoped to speed up the pace of the effort.

Along with that, he said, the Defense Department "is developing a new reuse and reinvestment strategy'' that includes assistance for the communities affected by the closings and efforts to convert defense industries to nonmilitary purposes.

Some communities have had a difficult time coping with base closings, and some school districts have experienced similar hardships. (See Education Week, April 29, 1992.)

Mr. Aspin this month also announced the latest in a series of base closings overseas. Twenty-nine additional sites are slated for closure, bringing to 704 the number of overseas installations to be closed, limited in scope, or placed on standby.

Such closings affect staff members of Department of Defense Dependents Schools. (See Education Week, April 15, 1992.)

Thirteen such schools are to be closed by the end of the year, and more will likely be closed in the future, according to Steve Schrupp, who is coordinating the closures for DODDS.

After this latest announcement, he said, "we have to go back and work with our personnel overseas and assess the impact on our schools.''

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