Department of Defense schools will soon announce closure dates for the coming academic year as they prepare to furlough educators after significant defense cuts, a situation the department’s education director said was unavoidable.
“The fact (DOD) had to even do it at all makes some statement at how difficult the financial situation is for the department,” Marilee Fitzgerald, director of DOD’s Education Activity, told reporters Wednesday.
Defense officials expect to save $23 million by closing schools on the five days that teachers are furloughed in September and by furloughing other DODEA employees, including principals and administrators, up to 11 days, Fitzgerald said.
All of the nearly 200 military-run schools will be affected, as will their 84,000 students, more than two-thirds of whom are overseas.
DODEA will rely on teachers to compensate for the missed lessons in the remaining 178 days of the school year, something many are accustomed to doing due to the transitory nature of military families between bases.
“They know how to make up time,” she said. “They do this every day.”
The furloughs are a response to $41 billion in cuts to fiscal 2013 programming due to the automatic sequestration that took effect in March. Most of the Defense Department’s nearly 800,000 civilians face up to 11 days of furloughs; officials lowered the number for teachers to mitigate the impact on students.
Like other civilians, teachers will first receive a 30-day advance notice of impending furloughs, after which they will have seven days to request exemptions. Few exemptions are expected to be granted, and Fitzgerald said Monday that she’ll have no say in those decisions, which follow preset guidelines.
Fitzgerald said the five-day figure was reached after officials weighed requirements for school accreditation, a full curriculum and special testing needs — such as advanced placement and graduation tests — against savings needs across the department. Spending in other DODEA areas, including maintence, already has been lowered.
“Many other accounts were looked at and scrutinized carefully before this decision was made,” she said.
Fewer school days means a tighter margin of error in the case of bad weather or other circumstances. DODEA needs a minimum of 175 school days to meet curriculum expectations, Fitzgerald said, a mere three days less than what is planned for the coming year.
School systems at each military base will set their own furlough dates, likely the same in each school to make planning easier for parents with children across different grades. The days will be taken weekly, and schools will be closed to teachers and students on those days.
Child care will remain open on furlough days, as required by the Secretary of Defense in a May 14 memo.
Some extracurricular activities, including sports, may need to be rescheduled in light of furloughs, Fitzgerald said, but most after-school activities will continue since they occur after the regular duty day.
Some 11,000 educators will be affected by the furloughs, as well as up to 8,000 other DODEA employees, she said.
Parents can learn local closure dates by checking their schools’ websites, she said.