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WHS Parents Concerned with JROTC Program Being Pursued in Financially ‘Tight Times’ without Public Input

By Jesse Wood

Nov. 8, 2012. As Watauga County Schools’ administration pursues a Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) program, parents of high school students have come forward with multiple concerns regarding the potential implementation of the program at Watauga High School.

For several years, officials at Watauga County Schools have worked to implement JROTC at the high school, and, in fact, when the new school was constructed, rooms on the bottom floor were specifically designed for the program.  

Now, it looks like the program’s beginnings might be closer than not to fruition; Supt. David Kafitz said the lead person with the U.S. Marine Corps JROTC program will “come for a site visit” on December 10, which was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.

“I’m excited about having another type of leadership development for students,” Kafitz said. “[The JRTOC program] provides a potential career path for some students who could potentially be at-risk.

Kafitz said most high schools have this program in place and that it has the support from the current Watauga County Board of Education.

He added that the JROTC program, which, if fully enrolled, would impact 180 students; is “another avenue” for at-risk students; and an alternative way to meet the needs of some students who would have otherwise dropped out.

“We look at it as a very positive thing,” he said.

The program requires two instructors, which normally consist of one retired officer and a non-commissioned officer. Kafitz estimated the cost for those two instructors would total $100,000. (The average teaching salary plus benefits is $50,000.)

At the beginning of the program, Kafitz said Watauga County Schools would be committed to funding the two positions, however, the U.S. Department of Defense provides, at not cost, uniforms and any other equipment and resources needed.

Eventually, Kafitz said, the U.S. Dept. of Defense would pick up a portion of the salaries, but Watauga County Schools would always have to pay a percent of the instructors’ salaries.

No positions would be lost or other programs cut to fund the JROTC program, Kafitz said.

“We are looking to be able to fund these programs without any problems. There are ways for us to readdress funding with sources to cover these without impact [to other areas of education],” Kafitz said. “We wouldn’t pursue it if we thought we had to cut something else to make this happen.”

Although no one has complained of the possible implementation of the program personally to Kafitz, more than one person expressed concerns to High Country Press.

Although, Gregory Reck, who has two daughters, a junior and a senior, currently attending Watauga High School and two other daughters who attended the school in the past, said he doesn’t oppose or favor the implementation of the program, he does have concerns.

For one, he feels that there should be an information session or a public hearing regarding the implementation of the program because the program does cost money. He wasn’t aware of the potential program until a colleague, who had heard about it from a teacher, mentioned it to Reck.

“One of my concern would be with this kind of thing is that there needs to be some sort of public discussion of pros and cons when introducing this kind of substantive change, especially because of the added cost,” Reck said, adding that his daughter has been having trouble enrolling into a foreign language class because of past cuts to education.

‘There’s just not room to handle all the people that want to take Spanish,” Reck said. “In a time of shrinking budgets, it’s important to have the parents’ input.”

Reck was also curious as to what the added benefit would be to the community.

“[Another] concern is does our current military need to be recruiting 16, 17 and 18 year olds to the military. Is there really a need to do that and have what could be a recruitment device embedded into our high school?” Reck asked.

Although Reck has been a community activist for decades and has attended anti-war rallies on the campus of ASU, where he is a professor of anthropology, he said he is not opposed to having a military in the U.S. and not opposed to young people serving in the military if they choose to do so

But he said he is really just ignorant of how the process of JROTC program works and would like an “avenue” for public information regarding the implementation of this program.

A 2010 document posted on the Army JROTC website states, “JROTC is not a recruitment program for the military, incurs no military obligation, and instructors do not apply any pressure toward military service. Cadets who choose to enlist or enter Senior ROTC may, however, receive benefits through higher rank or advancement.”

In 2000, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, Chief of Staff, Department of the Army, told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services that at least 30 percent of those involved in the U.S. Army JROTC program eventually enroll in the U.S. Army, and the former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen once famously described the JROTC program as “one of the best recruitment programs we could have.”

Goals of the program are to promote citizenship, develop leadership and critical/creative thinking, effective communication, improved physical fitness, provide incentives to live drug free, strengthen positive self-motivation, provide global awareness, teamwork and to inspire students to graduate high school, attend higher institutions of higher learning and pursue meaningful careers particularly in areas of science, technology, engineering and math, according to the Army JROTC website.

Another parent who has concerns with the potential JROTC program at Watauga High School is Tom Whyte. He has a daughter that is a current sophomore. He heard about the potential of a JROTC program at WHS from a teacher. 

He said he feels like this initiative is “being railroaded without community input … and swept under the rug,” and he questioned the implementation of this program in “such tight times as these.” 

When told that Kafitz said no future positions or programs will be cut or replaced with the JROTC program, he responded, “They’ve already been cut, but they won’t be added back.”

Whyte, who said he knows of another parent other than Reck who is concerned about the JROTC program, was also curious as to what would happen to Mountain Alliance, which is currently housed in the space that was originally designed for JROTC. Mountain Alliance, like JROTC, is a program that also aims at developing tomorrow’s  leaders, yet it is more geared toward experiential learning through outdoor-based activities.  

Kafitz confirmed that when JROTC is implemented at the high school, it will move into the space where Mountain Alliance currently operates.

Kafitz said, “We would have to work with [Mountain Alliance] to figure out the next steps, and I’m not familiar with what [WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson] does or doesn’t have in terms of space needs. It’s not our intent to discontinue our support. We’ll work with Mountain Alliance. We’ve kept Mountain Alliance in the loop. They understand the space they occupy is intended for the JROTC program, so it is not like we would be blindsiding them.”

Whyte responded, “Well, I am a parent that considers [Mountain Alliance] more important [than JROTC].”

Like Reck, Whyte’s main concern, though, was that it “seems to be like there has been no request for public input whatsoever and we’re paying for it. That’s kind of weird, and I can’t help but think it wasn’t purposeful,” Whyte said, admitting he was cynical.

Kafitz, when asked if an information session or public hearing will be held on this topic, responded in an email that: “We will present this information to the board of education at some point in the near future once we have a firm commitment of startup from the Department of Defense.”

He continued, “Such programmatic decisions are always ongoing and if the public has any comment, they are always welcome to speak during the public comment section of our Board of Education meetings.

The next Watauga County Board of Education meeting is Monday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m.