The Department of Defense has ordered a review of dependent schools on military bases, including Dover AFB.
The need for the Department of Defense to continue to operate dependent schools on military bases within the United States is coming under review by the Pentagon. The study, known as the Continental United States Educational Options Assessment, is being conducted by the National Defense Research Institute, aka the RAND Corporation, which analyzes defense-related issues. The $905,000 project will examine 60 schools on 15 military bases in the United States, as well as schools on military installations in three states that operate under contract with the DOD. One of those states is Delaware, where the Major George S. Welch Elementary and Dover Air Force Base Middle schools have had a contract with the Caesar Rodney School District since 1955. Both schools serve children of personnel living in the base housing area as well as dependents of active duty military personnel who live outside of base housing. CR School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said RAND already has reached out to his office with some preliminary information. “They told us it was just a formality, that there’s nothing specific to Dover or the CR district,” he said. “They’re basically looking to see if they’re getting the bang for the buck out of all the schools that provide services to military installations.” The system has gone through district-specific evaluations in the past, particularly when it comes time to renew its annual contract with the Department of Defense Education Activity, which oversees all schools directly serving military dependents. Although no date has been announced, Fitzgerald expects the RAND team to spend approximately five days meeting with school officials, parents, teachers and the command staff at Dover AFB. RAND is required to submit a final report covering the entire study by mid-2014; Pentagon officials then will consider a number of options for each school, which could include continuing the status quo, closure and transferring students to local districts or transitioning them to charter schools. Although not related to the upcoming study, Fitzgerald said the two base school buildings are among the oldest in the state and already have been targeted for replacement. “We’re on the list to have new schools built, but with sequestration and everything else, the list itself has been put in the desk drawer,” he said. “We’re hoping that Congress will make some decisions and allow new construction to take place.” Although he had no way of telling the outcome of the RAND study, Fitzgerald was upbeat about the schools’ future, primarily because they serve a unique population. “There’s a lot to say about the support our military children have while attending these schools,” he said. “With the wars and such, there are support groups to help them; we’re very sensitive about the needs of our military families. We take a great deal of pride in the support we provide these children when their parents are deployed.” “We think we provide a quality education for the students at Dover AFB,” he added. “I don’t see any drive to close these schools, but finances always are a big issue in Washington. “We’re always concerned, but we’re very optimistic.”