By Jesse Wood
April 9, 2013. With Supt. David Kafitz not in attendance, the Watauga County Board of Education voted 3-1 (with one board member abstaining) accepting to allow and fund the the U.S. Marine Corps JROTC at the Watauga High School, effective next school year.
The vote comes with the knowledge that the school board has not yet allocated any funds for the program that will cost Watauga up to $100,000 per year for the first three years for two military personnel positions.
Thereafter the military will cover 50 percent of personnel costs. Supplies, uniforms and equipment will be provided by the military from inception. Exact personnel costs couldn’t be figured beforehand because of differing pay grade of military officers.
Board Member Brenda Reese, who abstained from the vote, questioned the costs of the program.
“I would like to know that we will not lose teachers because of this,” Reese said, adding that she didn’t want to make a decision tonight.
Some board members were taken aback at the urgency of a needed vote on the matter, but after witnessing possible dissention on the matter, WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson said, “If you are going to stop this, the board needs to stop this tonight.”
Director of Human Resources Dr. Stephen Martin said at least one of the two positions has to be filled by June 1, so preparations for the JROTC program can occur in the summer before the next school year. The second position would be filled at the beginning of July.
Board Member Delora Hodges, who voted for the program, questioned any benefits for delaying the vote.
WCS Attorney Paul Miller said the current board needed to vote on accepting the program or not at this meeting or schedule a special meeting in the coming days to meet the timelines for the hiring process, which includes the search and interview of candidates.
Board Member Dr. Lee Warren said that this matter had been in the works for nearly 15 years, and a few years ago, it looked as if it would come to a reality. But for some reason or another, Warren said, “It was nixed at the last moments.”
Warren, who voted for the program, noted that a prior board had already approved of a JROTC program coming to the high school.
“It’s already been approved. We can’t go back and reverse this process,” Warren said.
Board Member Ron Henries, who voted on the matter as well, asked where the money was coming from. Martin said funds would come, he assumed, from the general fund balance. Finance Director Ly Marze, agreed, but added, “This is new to me as well.”
Board Member Ron Henries said, “What I want to know is this going to a budget request where we ask the county commissioners to fund this project?”
Henries added that if the school board votes to accept the program, that it might “come down to whether the county commissioners think this is an important program or not.”
Board Member Barbara Kinsey, who had the lone nay vote, noted that she wasn’t arguing for or against the program and said that there had not been thorough discussion on the program amongst the new board.
She mentioned that “little bits and pieces” had been mentioned at a recent budget workshop, and she also noted less state funding is likely to come down the pipe from Raleigh.
“Three of us are new board members and this talk has been going on many years at the high school,” Kinsey said, adding that she imagined 50 percent of the community was for and/or against the program.
“We did not realize this [process] was so far along,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey also mentioned that less funding is likely to come down the pipe from Raleigh, so the board was “stuck in between a rock and a hard place.”
Hodges made a motion to accept the program. Warren seconded the motion, and after brief thought, Henries voted for the matter at hand.
Kinsey voted no, and Reese abstained, though it wasn’t clear why she abstained from the vote.
Last November, High Country Press wrote an article about parents who were concerned with the program coming to JROTC without public input. Currently, Mountain Alliance, the experiential outdoor education program, is housed in space that was allotted for a future JROTC program to occur when the new Watauga High School was constructed.
Several months ago, Kafitz said that parents had the opportunity to speak out on the matter during public comment at the school board meetings, however no one did.