The Gulf War is having an unexpected financial impact on the Oceanside Unified School District, which faces a loss of $800,000 in federal funds because of a drop in students from military families living on Camp Pendleton.
The deployment of Camp Pendleton Marines to the Persian Gulf has led some families to pack up and return to their original homes, taking federal school aid dollars with them, district officials said.
The Oceanside Unified School District serves about 2,500 children of military families who live on the Marine base. In all, the district has an enrollment of 17,000.
Because of the loss of just 70 students from the base, the district says it stands to lose $800,000 of $3 million it had expected from a federal program called Impact Aid.
The program helps reimburse local school districts for providing education to students from military families that live on bases.
“Oceanside is not an isolated case, but it certainly is an extreme case, and it is the first district that has really felt it in a big way,” said Michael Muller, spokesman for the National Assn. of Federally Impacted Schools, which runs the Impact Aid program.
Muller said about 410 school districts around the country, which together receive $759 million in federal aid, face the prospect of having their federal grants reduced as dependents opt to move away from the bases and back home.
The amount of federal aid received per student from the program is determined by the proportion of students in the district who live on a military installation.
For years, the percentage of students from military families in the Oceanside district has been slightly more than 15%, a threshold that last year provided the district with about $1,300 per military student, district officials said.
Under the Impact Aid program, however, when a district falls below the 15% threshold, the per-student funding dips dramatically.
Although Oceanside Unified has lost only 70 students due to the Persian Gulf deployment, it lost just enough to fall below the 15% threshold and thus drop its grant to about $820 per student, district officials said.
Compounding the problem, the school district had expected the number of students from the base to grow because 600 new housing units are now being built. The students living in the new houses were expected to keep the district above the 15% level, even as the district’s overall population continues to grow.
“We’re about 150 to 200 students short of qualifying” for the 15% threshold, school district spokesman Dan Armstrong said.
Muller said most other districts participating are above the 15% threshold and not as affected as Oceanside.
Muller said he expected the number of students living on military bases to decrease as the Persian Gulf War continues.
“What is happening is that the spouses of the folks who are deployed, the longer it goes on, the more they tend to pick up and move shop back home,” Muller said.
Muller said districts serving military bases have the additional burden of hiring additional counselors and paying for teacher training to cope with students from military backgrounds.
“They’ve really had to serve a greater support role for these kids than they ever have before . . . not to mention when the ground war starts and people start dying. Then the need for counseling will be even greater,” Muller said.
“We’ve known since the deployment in August, however, that the money was in jeopardy,” said Armstrong, the district spokesman.
Armstrong said that, given budget crunches on both the federal and state level, he is not optimistic that the district will be able to recover the lost funds.
“We’ve kind of resigned ourselves at this point to just take this loss, along with the lottery loss,” said Armstrong, adding that revenue from the state lottery is falling about $675,000 below what was projected.
Officials of San Diego and Coronado schools said they do not expect their Impact Aid funds to be as greatly affected by the Persian Gulf deployment as Oceanside.
San Diego Unified officials said on-base housing at Miramar Air Station, for example, is so limited that, when a student moves from the base, there are other families available to replace him.