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Capitol Crunch Military Base Schools Lose Money in Austin and Washington BY DAN CARNEY Washington, D.C. HREE ELEMENTARY and juniorhigh-school students from a small district in San Antonio have written a poem for President George Bush. It reads in part: “We have here at Fort Sam Houston, Texas/Two of the best schools in the land/ Now we are told they will be closed/And we find that hard to understand.” The poem reminds Bush of his campaign commitments and argues that while education is expensive it is both cost-effective and morally right. It concludes on a sad note, however: “As the end of the school term approaches/Our young hearts are filled with sorrow/Hoping we will not be a victim of that old saying/here today, and gone tomorrow.” These poets, ranging from grade three to eight, hale from Robert G. Cole Junior and Senior High School in the Fort Sam Houston Independent School District. The district is one of three in San Antonio battling .a littleknown funding war. The three Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Field, and Lackland Independent School Districts are examples of how not to finance education and of how legislation intended to improve the quality of Texas schools could contribute to the demise of three of the state’s best districts. The districts’ problems started in the mid1980s, in the wake of the passage of education-reform legislation known as House Bill 72. The legislation, best known for its “nopass-no-play” rule, included a number of reforms, such as increased teacher pay, smaller student-teacher ratios, and mandatory computer-literacy programs. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think that [reform] is a good thing,” says Tom Moseley, superintendent of the Fort Sam Houston district. But no one told the educator how he was supposed to improve the quality of education without the money to pay for reform. His district, like the Lackland and Randolph Field districts, has no taxable property or control over its revenues. The three districts in San Antonio are funded differently than most schools in Texas. The districts are located on tax-exempt military bases. They cannot raise any local reve Dan Carney is a writer .for States News Service in Washington. nue, such as a property tax, and’ are unable to qualify for state aid under the standard education finance formula. The schools are completely dependent on a state and federal aid formula that has not kept pace with the financial demands placed on the districts by HB 72. So, as politicians in Austin and Washington have been steadily rhapsodizing about the importance of education, the squeeze on the San Antonio districts has grown progressively worse. Neither the state nor federal government has adjusted its payment formulas to account for the realities of education reform. And none of the districts has found a new source of income. Fort Sam Houston Independent School District is in the worst shape with only enough to make it part way through the next school year. Without at least a commitment that the money will be forthcoming, the district will have to announce after its board meeting in late May that it will not open its doors come September, officials say. “This is it folks, we’re not crying wolf,” sale Anne Stephens, principal of Fort Sam Houston High School. The other two districts can last through the upcoming school year but will run out of money shortly thereafter. The districts face funding shortfalls despite an effort to raise more money. All three want a “quick fix” a one-time federal appropriation of $10 million to be shared among them and possibly other districts around the country in similar situations. In order solve their long-term problems the districts also want a change in the formulas on which their revenues are based. For the quick fix they’ve been hitting on the Pentagon. While the federal and state education departments have little to gain by footing the bill for San Antonio school districts, the Pentagon does. If the districts were to close, one option would be to convert them to military school districts, with the Pentagon picking up the tab. \(Although they are located on military bases, they are currently administered like other independent civilhas said no to any new funds, apparently not wanting to get involved in funding civilianrun districts. So far Congressional efforts to force the Pentagon to fork out the money have not worked. With the money available for Congress to dole out to local interests extremely tight these days, U.S. Rep. Albert Busta mante and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen have failed in getting $10 million appropriated for the three districts and others that are in a similar position. Bentsen would have to win the award for the most innovative last-ditch effort. The senior Texas senator proposed taking the $10 million away from the $202 million budget for military bands. “While I enjoy a good military band as much as the next person and recognize their important role, a small reduction in that account is warranted,” says Bentsen. The problem is that Bentsen didn’t come up with the idea until the day the defense appropriations subcommittee took up the “dire emergency” supplemental appropriations bill, far too late for serious consideration. Consequently, the bill was passed with funding for Panama and Nicaragua, but none for San Antonio. Additional funding could be included on the annual bill to raise the national debt ceiling or in the fiscal 1991 ‘budget \(payments could be made retroactive if necesadministrators are backing an amendment to the anticipated state education reform bill and are putting all the pressure they can on the Congressional delegation. Ironically, the three districts are often cited for their academic excellence, and part of their financial difficulties are the result of this excellence. The state now mandates higher pay for teachers who have advanced degrees, good evaluations, and other measures of professionalism. All three militarybase districts are loaded with such teachers, many of whom have been with their districts for much longer than the average tenure at other schools. Fort Sam Houston principal Stephens has herself been honored in the Rose Garden by no less than George Bush and been named outstanding principal of Texas. Robert G. Cole Junior and Senior High School, also in the Fort Sam Houston district, was recently named the outstanding secondary school in Texas. With such a record, a strong case can be made for keeping them as is, instead of making them into military districts or merging them with adjacent civilian districts. The districts are also an example that while the state is dealing with larger education-funding issues, it cannot overlook the smaller educational successes. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11