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Guard’s youth project on cutting block

Local air base will appeal to save Starbase

– As expected, President Obama’s federal budget proposal would eliminate the Starbase educational program from the Department of Defense.

The director of Starbase Indiana at Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base said Wednesday that he and others will appeal the decision to Congress, which has until Sept. 30 to approve a budget for fiscal 2014.

“We saw this one coming,” Scott Liebhauser said. “Through different avenues, we’re getting the word out to our elected officials on how critical it is for them to add the funding back in at the congressional level and to continue to maintain our program nationwide.”

Housed at the 122nd Fighter Wing, Starbase Indiana is among 76 admission-free academies operated by the Pentagon to teach fifth-grade students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known collectively as STEM. The program is to receive $21 million in fiscal 2013, with about $300,000 going to the local site.

Less than a month ago, after the Senate rejected an amendment to eliminate Starbase, Liebhauser said he had learned the White House planned to shift the program from the Department of Defense to the Department of Education. At the time, the White House declined to comment.

In its proposed budget released Wednesday, the Defense Department said Starbase “is being consolidated and transferred outside the DoD” to support the administration’s STEM initiative.

The White House budget calls for combining 90 STEM programs operated by 11 federal agencies at a yearly cost of nearly $180 million. They would be administered by the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution in four areas: K-12 instruction, undergraduate education, graduate fellowships and activities outside the classroom.

Master Sgt. Darin Hubble, public affairs superintendent at the 122nd Fighter Wing, said “there’s a possibility” that Starbase could remain as a tenant at the Ferguson Road installation, which is owned by the state of Indiana. But Liebhauser doubts the current program – which uses rocketry, robotics and flight simulators as teaching tools – can survive without the Pentagon’s involvement.

“We work with the military community very directly on STEM education, so it’s a perfect fit,” Liebhauser said.

“The program has been successful for over 23 years nationwide as part of the Department of Defense. Changing it from that just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Starbase Indiana opened in February 2012 and has enrolled more than 900 students, most of whom attend the lab one day a week for five weeks.

Other than possibly closing Starbase, the White House budget plan makes no apparent changes to personnel or aircraft assignments at the 122nd Fighter Wing.

Hubble said the base hopes to add a 21st plane this year to its fleet of A-10 combat jets, increase manpower, gain active-duty personnel and begin construction of planned munitions facilities. The base, which Hubble said is being inspected by the Air Force this week and next, has employed about 1,200 full- and part-time personnel in recent years.

As part of Obama’s budget proposal, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a prioritized list of 1,270 capital improvements for fiscal 2014. Included among them were two projects for Fort Wayne’s VA Medical Center: $2.2 million to upgrade and renovate patient-care areas on the fourth floor (No. 380 on the priority list) and nearly $1.38 million to do the same on the fifth floor (No. 549 on the list).

The fifth floor has been a mental health clinic. Outpatient mental health services are scheduled to shift in 2015 to a nearby building owned by Parkview Health.