- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

A proposed Pentagon study on closing 69 U.S. schools run by the Defense Department including four on the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Prince William County is evoking criticism from those likely to be affected.

The study was requested by U.S. Rep. David L. Hobson, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction. It will assess the cost-effectiveness of closing schools in Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and transferring more than 32,000 students to public schools.

The study would not affect 73,500 students in U.S. defense schools abroad.

The study is expected to take about a year to complete, said Elaine B. Hinman, director of the Defense Department's domestic elementary and secondary schools.

"It is really important that we take a look at the way we do business," Miss Hinman said, adding that there is no "predetermined conclusion" to close down these schools.

Among other things, the study will examine the feasibility of transferring the defense schools to the control of local public schools systems and the costs of operating the schools, Miss Hinman said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Pentagon would save $1.5 billion by 2010 if all 69 schools were closed. All but $400 million of that, however, would have to be paid to local communities to support the added students, according to the Federal Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Quantico is home to the only local schools among the 69 being studied for closure, and it's where concern about the study is growing.

"My concern is the children," said John Hubert, a teacher at Quantico Middle and High School, and president of the Quantico Education Association, the local teachers union. "These students are uprooted repeatedly and are special children with special needs. Defense schools understand that need."

Quantico has three elementary schools and one school for middle and high school students.

Defense schools worldwide follow a similar curriculum based on national standards. "If a child leaves Germany and transfers to Quantico, he will pick up where he left off," Mr. Hubert said, adding that public schools could not meet the needs of these children.

A study last year by Vanderbilt University gave the defense schools high marks on performance in standardized tests and for maintaining smaller class sizes.

The Federal Education Association, a union of teachers and staff at defense schools, has been asking parents and children to write to their congressional representatives about their concerns about the study.

"The operating cost for these schools is 1/10th of 1 percent of the Defense Department's budget," union spokesman Gary Hritz said. He said the schools are necessary because of the safety and security they provide in addition to their "excellent quality."

Irene Cromer, a spokeswoman for Prince William County public schools, said school officials must look at the financial impact of having the defense schools transferred to them. "We would have to work with it," she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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