JROTC Is Saved. Its Instructors Are Not.

JROTC students may have gone home whooping about the 4-3 school board vote last night that reinstated the program, but today the JROTC instructors are doing anything but.

That's because although the program will go forward next year, the board also voted to lay off its instructors. District officials say it was a formality in the event some schools don't have enough students to enroll in the program for next year. By law, any employee who isn't laid off by May 15 must be paid for the entire following school year.

"We can always bring them back," says Roger Buschman, the district's chief human resources officer. "It was a precautionary measure, not a measure with the intent to release them. It was a fiscally responsible thing to do."

The 12 JROTC instructors make up the lion's share of the 16 school district employees laid off for next year, a tally whittled down from potentially hundreds after the city's rainy day funds were used to patch up the district's fiscal shortfall. The other four departing employees are a pair of administrators and two vocational ed teachers whose positions had become obsolete.

"I feel a little bit like I got hit in the gut," says Doug Bullard, the JROTC instructor at Lowell High School. "It's unfair to leave the instructors in limbo like this."

The board passed an amendment to the JROTC measure last night saying that if fewer than 50 students are enrolled in the program at a school, that school can decide to axe the program for the following year. Currently, two high schools fall into that category, but that's because the school district revoked the PE credit for the program for the current school year, making it impossible for many students to fit the elective into their class schedule. Enrollment is down from 1,600 students district wide three years ago to just around 500 this year. (The national headquarters for the JROTC program requires that 100 students be enrolled in the program at a single school for them to continue to split the salaries of the teachers with the school district.)

According to Buschman, the board will decide at the next meeting whether to to allow JROTC credit to substitute for the required PE credit to graduate, from which the district could predict enrollment numbers. The school district received a letter from the state this week saying the district has the authority to do so.

"It is unlikely that any more than two of [the instructors] would be laid off, and more than likely none of them would be laid off," says Buschman.

Still, two JROTC-supporting board members are angry about the district leaving the instructors in limbo after three years of uncertainty about the fate of their jobs ever since the board voted to phase out the program.

"They are actual people even though they're not being treated not like real people," says Commissioner Jill Wynns. "It's amazing these instructors have stayed with us as long as they have."

The JROTC instructors say they're unclear how long of a grace period they'll have to prove that they will have more than 50 students for next year. "They say you can have the program and a grace period to build up the program, and if you don't have at least 50 kids, the principal can decide not to have the program," says Gerry Paratore, the instructor at Balboa High School. "It's going around and around in this circle until you're crazy."

Read our cover story on the JROTC debate here.
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