Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

TOP STORY >>Senate cuts out school's funding

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Senate Armed Services subcommittee has stripped money for the Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center from the proposed 2008 military construction appropriation ap-proved by the House and passed to the Senate floor, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s office says there are still two chances to put $9.8 million back into the bill.

“It’s still open for debate on the floor and then in the joint conference committee,” said Katie Laning, spokesman for Lincoln.
“The education facility is definitely a priority for Lincoln and the entire delegation,” she said.

“We’re not done with the process,” said Pryor’s spokesman, Michael Teague. “We’ll continue to fight for those dollars, to put our best foot forward with (Cong. Vic Snyder) on the House side.”

“I am hopeful that the education center will be in the final conference report, but there is a long way to go in the legislative process,” Cong. Vic Snyder said Tuesday. The base is in Snyder’s congressional district and he’s a long-time advocate for it.
The issue came to light locally Monday, when John Chavis, LRAFB deputy base civil engineer, warned that the base had never received appropriations for two major construction jobs in the same fiscal year.


RUNWAY REPAIR

Both the Senate committee and the House versions of the military construction appropriation both include $9.8 million for runway repairs at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“Little Rock has never had two (construction appropriations) in one year, and the Senate is more interested in airfield repair,” Chavis told Jacksonville Rotarians Monday.

The base needs money to patch runways worn by the relentless take-offs and landings at the nation’s premiere C-130 center.

In the House version, both projects are funded for $9.8 million in the 2008 House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation Act, approved in June, but the bill has languished in the Senate and is unlikely to be considered before lawmakers leave for the August recess, according to Nancy Shefflette, director of the ASU-Beebe LRAFB Degree Center.
The Jacksonville-LRAFB education center, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between a community and a base, is expected to cost about $15 million, and Jacksonville residents taxed themselves and already have their share in the bank.


TRAILBLAZER

“When complete, the joint education facility will be a trailblazer,” said local banker Larry Wilson. “We taxed ourselves,” he said of Jacksonville residents.

The city of Jacksonville has set aside $5 million for its share.

The joint education center, to be constructed on the civilian side of the base perimeter—outside the wire, in military parlance—is authorized as a multi-purpose educational facility that meets Air Force standards for distance learning, video teleconferencing and seminar needs.

Currently, the Education Center is housed in two inadequate converted dormitories that provide a limited scope of academic offerings due to space constraints and distance from the base library, according to Shefflette.

Jacksonville officials and leaders view the center as part of a strategy to provide a college education for local residents.


SIX COLLEGES

The center includes classes affiliated with ASU-Beebe, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Park University, Southern Illinois University, University of Arkansas and Webster University.

The center originally was expected to be 82,000 sq. ft., but was scaled down to 50,000 sq. ft., Shefflette said.
“Of the six schools represented at the base, ASU-Beebe, offering associate’s degrees and also a certificate of proficiency in upholstery, has the most students, according to Shefflette, a former colonel at the base and also former director of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Before 9/11, she had 168 civilians enrolled, but in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks, civilian students couldn’t get on base.

Today, there are fewer than 50 civilian students in her program, she said.

The Joint Education Center idea grew out of the 911 terrorist attacks and the problem of making the classes more accessible to civilians at time of high alert, she said.

Classes range from self-improvement classes such as learning to upholster to classes leading to associates’ degrees, bachelor of science degrees and master’s degrees in arts, science, aeronautical science, business administration and public administration.