GI no joke 

Falcon schools brace for boon of soldiers

The superintendent of the fast growing, cash-strapped Falcon School District wasn't jumping for joy when he learned that Colorado Springs' military installations would expand after being spared the Pentagon's base closure hatchet.

"For us, this is going to add a new twist," said district Superintendent Ron Wynn.

Right now, roughly one in four of the district's children attend class in modular trailers because there isn't enough money to build regular schools.

"We were expecting up to 1,200 new students this year, now it seems there will be more," he said, adding that the district will struggle to find desks to accommodate the influx.

If everything goes according to the Pentagon's plan, as early as December, the first of 4,674 troops, personnel and contractors will arrive at Fort Carson with their families. Local Peterson and Shriever Air Force bases will also welcome hundreds of new personnel as 52 other major bases are closed or realigned.

Those, and other reductions totaling $64 billion in the next 20 years, are subject to the approval of President Bush and Congress. The plan would make the military more responsive to national threats in the post-Cold War era, according to the Pentagon.

Rocky Scott, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., said the economy would reap at least $250 million as military families buy or rent homes and go to stores.

"It really does filter through the economy," he said.

Yet he acknowledged those who provide services may struggle.

"The big question is whether there will be any federal money available to help," Scott said.

Wynn has already ruled out that possibility: "It won't happen. [The military] is working on a tight budget."

Not all schools are in the same boat. School District 11, the state's third largest, has plenty of space in schools near Fort Carson, said Glenn Gustafson, the district's chief financial officer.

"There's been suburban flight," he noted, adding that many families have been lured to newer homes in the Falcon school district.

In the meantime, Falcon's school board will try, as it has unsuccessfully in the past, to get voters to support a tax hike to build schools, he added.

-- Michael de Yoanna


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