Schumer asks Transportation Dept. to reopen Kings Point academy

Midshipmen march down Brooks Stadium during the viewing

Midshipmen march down Brooks Stadium during the viewing parade as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy welcomed 237 "plebe candidates" for the Class of 2017 Regiment of Midshipmen during the acceptance day ceremony at the campus in Kings Point. (Sept. 7, 2013) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

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Sen. Charles Schumer is asking the federal Department of Transportation to dig deep to find a way to fund the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, the only one of the nation's five service academies closed due to the partial government shutdown.

Wednesday, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he planned to call on DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to fund about 85 teachers at the academy. It is the only one of the nation's five service academies that operates under the DOT, making it subject to the shutdown.

"They'd have to find a way, given the constraints of the government shutdown, to find some money, and we think that's a possibility," Schumer said.

The DOT did not comment Wednesday.

The academy has been closed since the shutdown began Oct. 1, leaving hundreds of students without classes and prompting academy officials to begin its fall break a month early, on Oct. 4.

Lawmakers, such as Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), whose district includes the academy, have been working together to try to reopen the school. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) introduced legislation Monday that would make a technical correction to the Pay Our Military Act to include funding for the academy. Schumer had planned Wednesday to co-sponsor it but changed his mind later that day.

"Right now, it'll be blocked legislatively," he said.

Jim Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation, said he was grateful for Schumer's interest in the academy but concerned that the academy's closure would linger past Monday, the last day of the early fall break.

"When you're telling DOT to go find money, it's like, why wasn't that looked at before?" Tobin said. "Unless they can pull a rabbit out of their hat, I'm not so sure that's the answer. It may be. If not, we've lost valuable time."

The shutdown has caused concern among students at the academy, naval reservists who are on a rigorous and tight, nearly year-round academic schedule that includes time at sea.

For now, the roughly 720 students who were on campus when the shutdown began mostly have scattered to their families' homes, awaiting word of the academy's reopening.

"I'm worried," said parent Karla Johnson of Ronkonkoma, whose son is a first-year academy student. "Definitely worried that it's going to go past the 14th. I think it probably will."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Jim Tobin,  president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation.

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