CA schools on military bases in desperate need of repair
RIDGECREST (Tribune News Service) — At Murray Middle School, on the local naval base here, a kids basketball court sits just 7 feet away from locked school buildings containing asbestos.
On the first day of school this term, there was a power outage that also set off campus fire alarms, which administrators say happens four to six times a year.
The school is one of 11 California campuses at the top of the federal government's list of 160 schools on military installations due federal funding to make major facility repairs.
Problem is, schools must match 20 percent of what's needed to get the government's 80 percent, and many California campuses including Murray Middle can't afford it.
The match requires state schools to come up with $60.5 million to get $242.2 million.
So state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, is trying to push a bill though the legislature that would task the California Department of Finance with helping schools such as Murray Middle raise enough money to qualify for the feds’ help.
She thinks it’s a travesty that schools where members of the military send their kids are in such bad shape.
Murray Middle is at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, in the Sierra Sands Unified School District. Its facilities are ranked fourth worst in the country when it comes to schools on military installations.
Sierra Sands’ Burroughs High School is ranked 10th worst while its Richmond Elementary is ranked in the high 30s, district officials say.
Christina Giraldo, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, said it was promised $72 million in 2011 if it can come up with a 20 percent match.
That means Sierra Sands needs to raise $14 million. It has already come up with $7 million thanks to state and redevelopment agency funding. But Superintendent Ernie Bell said the district isn't going to make its goal.
State Senate officials also say there’s a time element tied to the federal money.
The funding, from the U.S. Department of Defense, is essentially open to districts throughout the United States that qualify. Those districts gave estimates of what improving their schools would cost years ago.
They might need more now, Fuller said, and she’s worried the money could run out before California schools have a chance to gather enough money to get their cut.
She said the issue has been on her radar for years.
Superintendents with schools on military bases can't tax property around those campuses either because they’re on government land or it's just that — land — and there's no property nearby to tax, Fuller said.
"This is really sad," she said. "These are our servicemen's children."
Fuller initially proposed the legislation in January after other failed attempts to get the funding. But her bill stalled in an Assembly appropriations committee because of language that would have required the state to move the needed matching funds ($61 million) from its general fund to the state education budget for the school districts to use.
Fuller said the committee found that language a bit too limiting, so she took it out. Her current bill, which the Assembly appropriations committee passed Thursday, more generally requires the California Department of Finance to explore options to help the school districts get the matching dollars they need.
Some of those options include getting low-interest loans or applying to the state allocation board.
The proposed legislation is eligible to hit the Assembly floor for a vote Monday. It has already passed in the state Senate.
Giraldo said Sierra Sands isn’t in a position to sell a bond and is still paying off a loan it obtained to update its career technical education offerings.
In the meantime, Burroughs High needs updated classrooms, technological upgrades, and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. And Murray Middle School, with most of its buildings dating back to the 1940s, is planning to build a new campus off-base.
During a recent visit, Carter Singletary, an eighth-grader at the middle school, described his campus as “old and rundown.” Educators pointed out carpets that had been taped together for decades, and heating and air conditioning problems in restrooms.
Administrators described rusted piping impacting the school’s plumbing.
Not to mention the school doesn’t have a gym, so school officials have to frequently repair cracked asphalt on the basketball court.
Superintendent Bell said Murray Middle hasn’t changed much since he was a student there. He just wants students to attend schools they can be proud of.
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