Friday, August 05, 2011

5 AUG 11: BRAC-a-Brick?

The predictions were staggering several years ago - as officials told us Columbus would add a city the size of LaGrange to its population. But the early returns on base realignment are showing a very different trend. It's almost like the new military families are driving to LaGrange, then stopping.

Harris County Schools began a new term Thursday, with the superintendent declaring the impact of base realignment "nonexistent." The move of the U.S. Armor School from Fort Knox to Fort Benning has brought 35 new military children there. Hopefully parents are telling students NOT to refer to the newcomers as BRAC Brats.

Harris County Superintendent Craig Dowling told WTVM the number of new military children may be small because his district doesn't have much rental housing. I suspect much of that is in the wrong corner of the county, anyway - unless Fort Benning soldiers want to live close to Kia mechanics.

But down the interstate, the number of newly-enrolled Muscogee County students also is small. District officials count 54 added students from base realignment so far. Do you think some soldiers hacked their way into Georgia education department computers, and saw the Adequate Yearly Progress scores early?

Muscogee County School spokesperson Valerie Fuller noted the deadline for BRAC still is six weeks away, so the number of transferring military students still could increase. But at this point, it seems like Fort Knox is bringing in a lot more tanks than toddlers.

If the trend continues, Dr. John Phillips could wind up looking like a very greedy man. Remember how many times the former Superintendent flew to Washington, pleading for federal funding of BRAC-related school.... oh wait. Some people were convinced of that trait when Phillips asked for a nicely-paid assistant.

Muscogee County voters approved a sales tax issue for new construction, of course. But the small "BRAC bump" makes it seem increasingly unlikely that Benning Hills Elementary School will reopen. This may be the best news that bums around the old Phenix Genera Hospital will read today.

Speaking of the Alabama side, Fort Mitchell may be a boom area - but so far Russell County Superintendent Mike Green counts only 41 new military students entering grade school. The projection was for 300 new students. It makes you wonder if those same people projected how successful President Obama's federal stimulus plan would be.

When it comes to education, the big winner in the BRAC sweepstakes may be Phenix City Schools. Superintendent Larry DiChiara says his district's enrollment has grown by about 200 students per year over the past six years. Newcomers apparently prefer a district where school board members fight with the city council, instead of fighting with each other.

Some longtime residents know Alabama has an advantage, when it comes to attracting new residents to the Columbus area. I've been told the property tax rate is much lower in east Alabama. Maybe that's because you're likely to have a house near a mobile home....

A few local skeptics doubted the BRAC hype from the beginning. They warned most of the new soldiers would be transient -- at Fort Benning a few months, then gone. They predicted more military families would want to rent, instead of buy. Those skeptics should have warned the people opening new tattoo parlors, while they were at it.

For the moment, the skeptics look right. The next few months will determine whether base realignment in Columbus turned out to be a boom or a bust. And if it's a "boom," some people in Midland and Upatoi still won't be happy about the noise.

Let's retreat into the weekend by checking some other Thursday headlines....

+ The high temperature in Columbus dropped a little, but still reached 99 degrees F. WRBL showed Fort Benning soldiers dealing with the heat by dipping their hands and arms in 50-degree water for several minutes. And for all these years, we thought an army ran on its stomach.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed a couple was spotted during Tuesday's National Night Out event downtown - "making out" in the back of a police car. Young love can be a risky thing, you know. Especially if it happens in a place filled with skilled detectives and DNA analysts.

+ Georgia Governor Nathan Deal sold a property in Habersham County to a California man for $750,000. Hmmmm - was Columbus Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson in the running for that property a few weeks ago?

+ The University of Georgia opened fall football practice, with Columbus's own Isaiah Crowell wearing number one. Nope, there's no pressure on Crowell to perform well this season at all....

(I've heard stories over the years of high school football stars demanding to wear number one in college. They've used it as a "negotiating tool" during recruiting, and it's seemed egotistical to me. But so far, no player has gone all the way - changing his name to something inspired by Chad Ochocinco.)

+ Instant Message to WDAK Radio: I guess you're still not listening to those public service announcements you play. From what I've heard this summer, "Wish Kid Brandon" won't be able to watch a space shuttle launch anymore.

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