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Jefferson County schools would be affected by large scale military cuts

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FORT DRUM — The worst-case scenario study that outlined the effects of an 85 percent cut in Army personnel at Fort Drum would mean up to a 60 percent reduction in the number of students at area public schools and a 37 percent cut to enrollment at Jefferson Community College, Watertown, local officials say.

An Army study released June 26 warns that a worst-case scenario of reducing 16,000 soldier and civilian positions on post by 2020 would cause a $1.6 billion economic catastrophe across the region and also dramatically change the school districts and their culture. The study remains a hypothetical analysis, and no decision has been made by the military about any more local cuts.

For Indian River and Carthage central schools, the districts with the highest number of students associated with the military, more than 50 percent of the student body would be affected by large-scale cuts.

“It would be a dramatic change in our district,” Indian River Central School District Superintendent James Kettrick said. “Well over 60 percent of our students would be affected.”

Mr. Kettrick said the highest enrollment for this year was 4,400. If the district were to lose 60 percent of its students, the school would have only 2,000 students, leading to staffing reductions, the possible shutdown of elementary school buildings and loss in state aid and federal Impact Aid.

According to the assessment, the Watertown City School District has the third largest Army-affiliated student population, with 795 children from military families who account for 20 percent of enrollment, the majority of whom are enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade. About 22 percent of military children are enrolled in surrounding Jefferson County school districts.

Terry N. Fralick, Watertown City School District superintendent, said he imagines most of the families remaining in the district after potential cuts would choose to move to available housing on or closer to post.

Mr. Fralick said the district received $400,000 annually from federal Impact Aid and received state aid based on the enrollment. Student enrollment is only one portion of the equation for state aid, but it can be a significant contribution.

If the district’s student population diminished and the worst-case scenario study came to pass at Fort Drum, the results would be “devastating at best,” he said.

With the lowered student population, the district could look at staff reductions and closure of different elementary school buildings.

South Jefferson Central School Superintendent Jamie A. Moesel said even though only about 5 percent of her district is affiliated with the military, it still would be a loss of students to the district. Of the 2,000 students enrolled this year, about 100 were military affiliated.

“It would have an impact, but it would be split between buildings and grade levels,” Mrs. Moesel said. “But a lowered student enrollment would be money we don’t receive in state aid.”

For Jefferson Community College, members of the military or those affiliated with the military make up 37 percent of the current enrollment.

“If they went down to 3,000 troops, we would be facing a $4.2 million decrease in tuition levels,” said Treasurer Daniel J. Dupee II, college vice president for administration and finance.

Mr. Dupee said the loss of tuition revenue combined with state aid for full-time equivalent students means the college could see a decrease of $7 million in funding.

With a majority of the college’s budget going toward personnel, he said, a dramatic decrease in the number of students could lead to a reduction of 30 percent of the staff.

“This could be detrimental to the school if roughly 31 percent of our enrollment were gone,” Mr. Dupee said. Even the increase in new students expected as a result of the college’s new dormitory is unlikely to be enough to make up the difference, he said.

About five years ago, when the economy soured, Mr. Dupee, said the college experienced an increase in enrollment as people were being laid off or sought to become a more desirable job candidate. As the economy has stabilized, he said, community colleges have seen a decrease in enrollment, but JCC is one of the few that hasn’t.

“I think the addition of the dorms has been a stabilizer,” Mr. Dupee said.

Mr. Fralick said there could be further decreases in enrollment if there were further civilian job cuts given the growing number of businesses in Watertown supported by the military population.

Mr. Kettrick said every time a study is released detailing possible cuts at Fort Drum, the subject moves to the front burner.

“This is the worst-case scenario study; this isn’t a definite, but it’s something to keep in mind,” Mr. Kettrick said.

he said not only would the school suffer decreased aid, but the local students would miss out on having a diverse cultural atmosphere in their school.

“We have students from around the world that bring a wealth of perspective to our school,” Mr. Kettrick said. “We are lucky enough to have world-traveled students come into our schools and provide excellence in educational flavor.”

In the Carthage Central School District, 50 percent of the student population is affiliated with the military.

Phone calls to Carthage Central School Superintendent Peter J. Turner and Assistant Superintendent Andrea K. Miller were not returned.

Mr. Turner wrote in an email, “I prefer to stay away from hypothetical scenarios.”

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