- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - With a combat brigade departing as part of military base realignment, Fort Knox will shutter four schools for the coming year as enrollment at the institutions drops.

The shutdown will take place at the end of the current school year as the central Kentucky military post prepares for the deactivation of its lone combat unit, the 3,000-member 3rd Combat Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. The school shutdowns are part of a ripple effect as the U.S. Army seeks to shrink its ranks to about 450,000 active duty soldiers.

“Obviously, the big issue is the shock of closing four schools and the shock of people being laid off,” Fort Knox Community Schools Superintendent Frank Calvano said.

The four schools - Kingsolver Elementary, Mudge Elementary, Pierce Elementary and Walker Intermediate - account for 877 students. With students transferring with their parents, enrollment for the next school year at the four schools remaining at the post is expected to be about 1,350 students. The shutdown marks at least the third time schools on the iconic post known for the federal gold depository have been shuttered. Schools also were closed at Fort Knox in 1992 and in 1999 because of declining enrollment.

Military posts around the country, including Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, offer elementary, middle and high schools for the children of active duty soldiers. Defense Department officials on Wednesday said they couldn’t say whether schools on other military posts would be closing.

“That’s hard to speculate,” said Elizabeth Middlemiss, interim director for domestic dependent elementary and secondary schools.

Middlemiss said schools at Fort Stewart in Georgia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina were consolidating and moving into joint new facilities on their respective posts because of aging buildings and poor facility conditions.

The Department of Defense is in the midst of an historic reorganization and downsizing. The reduction in the size of the military from 1,369,532 active duty soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines includes the loss of 12 active duty fighting brigades in the Army - from 45 to 33. The Army will drop in numbers from a peak of 570,000 soldiers to 450,000 soldiers by the time the reductions are expected to be complete in 2017.

With the downsizing comes a reduction in need for services to dependents. In recent years, the Defense Department has shuttered or merged schools on military bases in Europe.

The military has contracted with the Rand Corp. to study 60 Defense Department elementary and secondary schools at 15 U.S. installations. The study is expected to be complete by Aug. 31 and will examine options for providing education for some 25,000 military children.

That study is ongoing, but not related to the Fort Knox school shutdowns, said Middlemiss, who oversees 65 schools on 16 installations at certain bases in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, Virginia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Ryan Brus, a spokesman for Fort Knox, said military officials have been in contact with the nearby Hardin County school system and estimate that 541 students will leave those schools because of the brigade’s deactivation.

“That’s the school district with the heaviest number of dependents,” Brus said.

Hardin County schools Superintendent Nannette Johnston expects teachers and administrators from Fort Knox to look for jobs in neighboring counties, but no disruptions from students leaving.

“Our district is used to fluctuating numbers and a high transient rate,” Johnston said.

Calvano said students, parents and staff were being notified this week about the closings. Calvano said the Fort Knox school system will work with employees losing their jobs to help them find positions in the military school system or with public schools.

“Hopefully, our staff will be able to continue to work in some fashion,” Calvano said.


Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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