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Fate of Teachers in D.O.D. Schools Uncertain After Europe Drawdown

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In the face of the massive drawdown of U.S. troops stationed in Europe, the Defense Department will close nearly 10 percent of its schools for military-related dependents in Germany this June.

Twelve schools will shut their doors, and another eight are being considered for closure, officials of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools disclosed this month.

The demise of the schools will leave hundreds of teachers, administrators, and other staff members to be transferred to other schools in the DODDS system, or possibly laid off, unless they choose to resign or retire, the officials said.

But with the school year now in its last months, individual school employees have not yet been apprised of their fates, a fact that sparks anger from some staff members and teachers'-union representatives.

Officials of the school system say they are working on matching remaining employees with staffing needs elsewhere and could have destinations for educators next month.

The closures of the schools--many others are reducing their staffs significantly to match waning enrollments--represent an "unprecedented'' contraction of the DODDS system, according to Frank X. O'Gara, a spokesman in Germany for the Defense Department schools.

"This is part of your peace dividend,'' said Edward O. Turner, the chief of staffing for DODDS in the system's Arlington, Va., main office.

The system serves 132,000 children of U.S. military and civilian personnel stationed overseas in 250 schools in 19 countries, Marilyn Witcher, a spokesman in the Arlington office, said.

Germany is by far the largest of the system's five world regions, with about 60 percent of the students; it began the school year with 76,481 students in 135 schools, Ms. Witcher said.

The closures promise an uprooting--and an uncertain future--for staff members, students, and parents.

Some members of the armed forces heading back to the United States are leaving secure jobs for the sluggish U.S. employment market and will take with them children who may have spent more than half their lives in Defense Department schools abroad.

For teachers and administrators, retaining a DODDS job and years accrued toward retirement could mean leaving a spouse or longtime home for a transfer hundreds of miles away in Germany, or to a Defense Department school as far away as the Pacific where there may be vacancies.

Patricia C. Kindle, a 6th-grade teacher at the Osterholz-Scharmbeck Elementary School, which will be closed and combined with its companion high school, said she already has a "weekend'' marriage with her husband, who works in the Netherlands.

"Right now, with the possibility of a transfer, I could end up 8, 10, 14, 15 hours away from him, and then you really have to weigh things,'' said Ms. Kindle, one of several DODDS educators in Germany who were interviewed by telephone this month.

Enrollment Tumbles

With the end of the Cold War, the heavy American military presence in Europe is being significantly reduced.

In November 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the U.S. military had 311,000 troops in Europe, mostly those of the Army, according to the Defense Department.

By September 1991, that number had shrunk to 287,000, and it is projected to decline to 220,000 by the end of this coming September--a loss of about 30 percent in three years.

In Germany--where nearly 80 percent of U.S. forces in Europe are stationed--Defense Department schools have seen their enrollments tumble as a result.

In August 1990, before the downsizing began, DODDS enrollment there stood at 90,131, according to Mr. O'Gara, the spokesman for the system in Germany. By June of this year, the schools in Germany are expected to serve 61,000 students--a drop of about 29,000, or nearly one-third of the region's DODDS enrollment, in just two years.

The pace of the student exodus has picked up in recent months, Mr. O'Gara and others said.

Indeed, the expected loss of DODDS students this year alone in Germany, about 17,000, is greater than the total enrollments of three of the system's other four regions worldwide.

By the end of the 1990-91 school year, officials had closed seven dependents' schools in Germany, Mr. O'Gara said.

One school slated for closure last year instead became the only one there to shut its doors at the semester break this year. When it closed, Goeppingen Elementary School near Stuttgart, which served dependents from the Army's 6th Area Support Group, had just 30 students, Mr. O'Gara said.

While many American bases are closing in Germany, the closure of a school does not necessarily mean that the installation it is affiliated with is shutting down, Ms. Witcher of the Arlington, Va., office noted. Instead, it could simply mean the troop population at that base can no longer support a school, she said.

1,200 Positions Affected

DODDS officials estimate the loss of 1,200 positions from the June closures in tandem with reductions in staff sizes at other Defense Department schools in Germany. About 900 of those positions are slots for teachers and administrators, while about 300 are support or clerical jobs, Mr. O'Gara said.

While a total of about 470 other positions were lost at the end of last school year and at the semester break this year, the workers affected were either reassigned within Germany or were temporary workers whose contracts had expired, officials said.

To date, they said, no permanent employees have been without a job because of the cutbacks.

DODDS officials hope to place all those affected by the new cuts in other dependents' schools in Germany. If not, they said, the employees will probably be offered jobs elsewhere overseas in the DODDS system.

Mr. Turner, the DODDS staffing chief, said that layoffs--a reduction-in-force, or òéæ, in bureaucratic terminology--would be "an absolute last resort.''

But with the continuing troop reductions--slated to go through 1995--next year promises a rerun of this year's school cutbacks, possibly with another move for the same teachers displaced this year, officials acknowledged.

'Should I Bail Out Now?'

Behind the expected cuts are employees awaiting word of a transfer that could take them far from a spouse or a home they own--or a notice of a reduction-in-force.

No estimates are yet available of the actual number of DODDS employees who will still need positions after others opt for retirement or resignation, Hayden S. Horne Jr., the personnel director for DODDS-Germany, said last week.

His staff is still "crunching numbers,'' Mr. Horne said, but should have final figures as early as this week, with teachers hearing about their fates "in early May.''

But that is very late in the year for teachers who have been hearing rumors of military-base and school closures since the fall, said Jan Pepelnjak, the elected area director for the Germany region of the Overseas Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

In general, she said, teachers are "very upset'' that in April they still do not know where they are being sent or what they will be teaching.

"Living from October to June is a long time to be living in this limbo,'' said Marilynn A. Taylor, a media specialist at Osterholz-Scharmbeck Elementary School, who is trying to decide whether to retire early.

Many employees, she and others said, need to give landlords 60 to 90 days' notice on vacating an apartment, need to arrange government-reimbursed summer travel, or require enough time to apply for non-DODDS jobs.

With prospects bleak for jobs under the military drawdown, some employees of the system, Ms. Pepelnjak said, are wondering, "'Should I bail out now?'''

Ms. Pepelnjak maintained that lack of information and assistance from DODDS management or the military has also concerned teachers.

A memorandum addressing the question of a reduction-in-force came from Mr. Horne, the DODDS-Germany personnel chief, last month, she said.

"That was the first thing [employees had] received related to the fact their employer as a system recognized that there was a problem,'' Ms. Pepelnjak said.

"They knew this was going to happen,'' Ms. Kindle, the Osterholz-Scharmbeck teacher, said, "but it doesn't seem there was a plan for it.''

Trying 'To Be Fair'

Mr. Horne said he recognized the anxiety DODDS employees are feeling. He said the school system was not only working to make timely notice of new assignments or layoffs, but was also doing its best to prevent a widespread reduction-in-force.

Accommodating married couples working in the system or those who must live close to a hospital for health reasons, Mr. Horne said, makes for "difficult decisions'' as his agency tries "to be fair in what we're doing.''

"In some teaching categories, there very well could be a reduction-in-force,'' Mr. Horne added, singling out guidance counselors, media specialists, administrators, and clerical workers as those for whom a òéæ was more of a "probability.''

But several factors, including the number of resignations and retirements and vacancies among positions formerly filled by temporary workers, could ease the need for such a reduction, officials said.

Also, since 40 percent of DODDS-Germany's workforce is made up of family members of military and civilian personnel stationed there, some of them will be returning to the United States as part of the downsizing anyway, Mr. O'Gara, the system's spokesman in Germany, pointed out.

"We're trying to provide continuing employment to the maximum extent possible,'' Mr. Horne said.

"It's a changing world,'' he added. "We have to change also.''

Tension, Denial

That change has proved stressful in the schools.

Officials at Stuttgart High School thought they would have one more year before being closed, but they heard in February that the school was a candidate this year, said the school's principal, Larry E. Sessions.

Official notification of the closing came just two weeks ago, he said.

Coping with the prospect of closing depends on "lots of communication with staff and parents and students,'' said Mr. Sessions, who is in his first year both at Stuttgart and as a high-school administrator.

Even so, he said, it is frustrating when he cannot answer the questions of his anxious staff.

"It seems like my standard response is 'I don't know,''' he said.

Among other administrative chores, he said, the closure means having to advertise equipment to other schools, rescheduling next year's major alumni reunion, and trying to find old sports trophies requested by alumni.

Advance notice of a closing can help, said Karen Hall, the principal at Munich Elementary School, where officials have known for two years that their school was to close this June.

"Logistically, it's made a huge difference'' she said. At the end of last school year, the school was able to weed out equipment it did not need, for example.

For the students, Ms. Hall said, the reality of the shutdown "started to hit them about January.'' To ease their concern, she said, "the whole aim of the school year has been to work on self-esteem,'' through such techniques as award programs.

At Stuttgart High, Mr. Sessions said, some students "haven't accepted the reality of [the closing] yet.'' Juniors still want to order Stuttgart letter jackets and class rings, he said.

Contributing to their denial, he suggested, is perhaps the fact that some of those who remain next year will attend the school's crosstown DODDS rival, Patch High School.

Stuttgart High officials have tried to smooth the transition by arranging meetings between the two schools' student councils, Mr. Sessions said.

'Too Late To Start Over'

Meanwhile, the mood among teachers is "quite tense,'' Mr. Sessions said.

But, he said, "I think the majority of teachers are handling it in a very professional manner and are maintaining the quality of education in the classroom.''

Ms. Hall of Munich Elementary School agreed. Still, she said, despite her school's long lead time to prepare for the closure, the last three months have become "more and more tense.''

Between families worried about unemployment in the United States and anxious teachers, Ms. Hall said, "you're starting to see people reacting and upset at things that would just normally slide by.''

For her staff, Ms. Hall said, the most troubling aspect of the closure is the disruption for a large group of teachers who have been in the area for more than 20 years.

Some will probably elect to retire early, but are waiting to see how good a reassignment their seniority can bring them, Ms. Hall said.

Despite the expected scarcity of administrator jobs, both Mr. Sessions and Ms. Hall said they want to stay with the DODDS system.

Saying she is too young to retire, yet feeling it is "too late to start over,'' Ms. Hall described herself as a "fatalist.''

"Whatever will be will be,'' she said, "and there must be a reason for it.''

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