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Air base school could feel federal cuts

Fairchild families share worries with Sen. Murray

Federal budget cuts could close or curtail some school and child care programs at Fairchild Air Force Base, worried military families and school officials told U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Tuesday.

“This is really unfair to the children of the people who are focused on the mission” at Fairchild, said Superintendent Pam Veltri of Medical Lake School District.

Murray made a morning visit to Michael Anderson Elementary School at the air base to hear from school officials, parents and staff about the effect of federal cuts through a “sequestration” of funds.

“We have been watching our government lurch from crisis to crisis,” Murray said in what was billed as a town hall-style meeting. “It’s time to see this end.”

The sequestration cuts are being enforced because Congress hasn’t reached a compromise on the federal budget.

Without compromise, the cuts are going to be felt broadly in communities over time just like they are already being felt at Fairchild, Murray said.

Veltri told Murray that cuts in a series of funding categories, including federal impact aid in lieu of local taxes, will cost the school district $485,000 this year and more in future years. Medical Lake School District operates Michael Anderson Elementary on the base.

A substantial portion of the cuts will be in programs for special-needs students, Veltri said.

Also at risk are after-school care programs that offer science, math, technology, arts and athletic participation. Parents could lose a portion of day care services for children at the base.

Melissa Griffin, mother of a special-needs student, told Murray, “Being a military child is hard enough. With those budget cuts, you are going to take away special-needs teachers who we really need.”

Melanie Kilgore, learning specialist, said, “Children will lose. Reductions will mean fewer staff members working even harder.”

“It does not have to be this way,” Murray said. “We do have a debt and deficit problem, but we can manage it.”

Beyond school and child care programs, the cuts are threatening to strip work hours from all civilian workers at Fairchild, said Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing.

Action in Congress last week delayed furloughs of Fairchild civilian workers until May. Those workers could see 20 percent reductions in their work hours, he said.

Murray’s trip to Fairchild wasn’t all budget talk.

After she arrived, the former preschool teacher read her favorite children’s book to a group of 15 preschoolers, who sat quietly listening to “King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub.”

The children gave her a pair of Easter socks.

“What a great way to start a day, reading to kids,” Murray said.

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