Districts Bracing for Shutdown, Scaling Back of 91 Military Bases

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School officials in districts near the 91 defense installations targeted by a federal commission for closings or severe cutbacks said last week that the financial implications of such a move would be devastating.

"If the proposal goes through, it could be disastrous for us," said David Kincaid, superintendent of the Adelanto School District in California. The district draws more than half of its enrollment from families associated with the George Air Force Base in Victorville, which is among those sched6uled to be shut down.

Like other school chiefs in the affected areas, Mr. Kincaid has vowed to fight the move, which he estimates will cost his system--in federal impact aid, enrollment-tied state aid, and other considerations--up to $5 million of its $8-million annual budget.

But while these superintendents cling to an admittedly slim hope that the Congress will reject the commission recommendations, others are seeing a silver lining in the cost-savings plan.

"We are tickled to death," said Danny Mitchell, assistant superintendent of the Clovis, N.M., school district. The nearby Cannon Air Force Base is expected to gain more than 1,000 new military personnel in shifts associated with the base closings, he said. "We definitely anticipate growth."

In addition to closing or reducing the size of 11 major military bases and 80 other defense installations, the commission's plan calls for personnel shifts at 54 other bases.

In all, 58,500 military and civilian personnel would lose their jobs or be transferred. But there would be 37,850 new jobs or assignments at other bases.

Any district that is near a base on the closure or realignment lists stands to be affected, said John Forkenbrock, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

Those districts serving the major military bases that are slated to be shut down completely will be hit hardest, he said, just as those districts near bases that are slated for significant personnel gains can expect some positive benefits from the plan.

California's George Air Force Base employs nearly 5,000 military personnel and 500 civilian workers.

About 1,200 children from military families would be pared from the rolls of the Adelanto school district with the base's closing, leaving an enrollment of only 900, Mr. Kincaid said.

The district would lose $1.8 million in impact-aid payments--federal funds paid to districts located near federal installations to compensate for lost property taxes. And, because state aid in California is calculated on a per-pupil basis, Adelanto could lose another $3 million.

Mr. Kincaid predicted he will have to lay off more than half of the district's 225 employees and close at least two of its four schools.

"We are going to do everything we can to fight this," he vowed.

But a recently launched letter-writing campaign among staff members may have little impact, he conceded, on a federal government intent on trimming defense expenditures.

Already, the campaign's "first target" has concurred with the commission and endorsed its recommendations. Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci, to whom the Adelanto letters were to have been addressed, approved the plan late last week.

Under a law passed by the Congress in October, Mr. Carlucci had until Jan. 16 to either accept or reject the entire list.

Now, Mr. Kincaid's letter-writing campaign will target the Congress, which must reject the list within 45 days of March 1. If it takes no action, the base closings will move forward.

There is one loophole that would allow the Congress to stop the process without rejecting the list. Lawmakers could refuse to appropriate the funds needed to implement the closings and realignments, but Congressional leaders have warned against using such a tactic.

The list is the work of a 12-member bipartisan commission appointed by Mr. Carlucci and headed by former Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff, Democrat of Connecticut, and former Representative Jack Edwards, Republican of Alabama.

The commission scrutinized all of the nation's 870 military installations and nearly 4,000 properties owned by the armed services.

The impetus for its formation was the need to reduce the political considerations involved in such decisions. Because of strong voter antipathy to military-base closings, the Congress has blocked any attempts since 1977.

Under the new plan, neither Mr. Carlucci nor the Congress is allowed to alter the commission's list in any way. They must either accept or reject it in its entirety.

"The superintendents I have talked to are aware of the difficulty in derailing this because it is an all-or-nothing situation," said Mr. Forkenbrock of the impact-aid association.

Congressional approval is widely expected, even though the commission's projected annual savings--$693 million--falls well below the $2 billion to $5 billion the Congress had hoped for.

Once approved, the closures would begin January 1990, and be completed by 1995.

"The structure that has been set up seems to make it extremely difficult to fight this," said David Glisson, superintendent of the Rantoul, Ill., school district, which is located near the slated-for-closure Chanute Air Force Base.

The Rantoul district serves 2,500 children in grades K-8 and, of those, 65 percent are base-connected, said Mr. Glisson.

"How many others we will lose to the domino effect, we don't know," the superintendent said. Some area businesses are expected to close if the base is shut down, he explained. Chanute supports more than 2,000 military employees and 1,000 civilian workers.

The Rantoul district will lose about $1.5 million in impact-aid payments, which is about 25 percent of its total budget, according to Mr. Glisson. Because state aid is tied to enrollment, he expects it, too, to shrink considerably.

And locally, he said, there "just isn't enough assessed value to make up the loss."

He estimates that the district will go from six elementary schools to one or two.

While it is possible that business and industry may eventually move into the space vacated by the military, the superintendent said, the transition time will be very difficult.

"We are concerned about the transition costs," he said. "Of course, military families will be assisted. But our teachers, who are here to serve the kids and have invested in homes in Rantoul, won't get assistance."

Timothy R. Monahan, superin8tendent of the Portsmouth, N.H., school district also expressed transition worries.

Portsmouth's Pease Air Force Base, which employs 2,250 military personnel and 400 civilian workers, is slated to be shut down completely.

Out of 4,200 students in the Portsmouth school district, about 1,000 are connected with the base, Mr. Monahan said. But while he was optimistic about the system's ability to weather the financial strain of lost students, he said that adequate time for planning was essential.

At least 18 months' notice is needed, Mr. Monahan said, before the base is actually closed.

At present, however, there is little information available for officials in the affected school districts to base their decisions on. Once the proposal to close the bases is approved, it will be up to each individual arm of the military to devise a plan for closing or phasing out bases within its purview.

"We employ teachers in such a way that if I don't give notice by March, they work the following school year," Mr. Monahan said. "We can't have a full staff of teachers and then have the base close down in the middle of the year."

He expects to close two of Portsmouth's seven elementary schools if Pease is closed, Mr. Monahan said.

All of the superintendents dealing with the threat of major base closings stressed that a phased scheduling for the closings would help minimize the effect on employees.

"By phasing in the base closing, maybe our community will have time to spur some growth," said Mr. Kincaid, of the Adelanto school district. "This will drastically affect the lives of many, many people."

Planning will be needed, too, by those facing the more palatable prospect of an influx of new students.

But Mr. Mitchell of the Clovis, N.M., district said that although it is too soon to estimate how large the enrollment increase there will be, or what it will mean in terms of new personnel or services, "we couldn't get better news."

Vol. 08, Issue 16

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