Parents and Junior ROTC students packed the Poway Unified School District offices at Tuesday night’s school board meeting to urge more funding for Junior ROTC—repeatedly called a “valuable program.”
Darlene Hart, the mother of a Westview freshman ROTC member, noted that enrollment was the highest this year—122 students, including more than 50 freshman—and just one instructor.
“As per the contract, I believe it states that there is supposed to be two instructors, of which Poway Unified pays for half,” Hart said. “That hasn’t happened in the past... going into the second year.”
The school district now pays for only half of the single teacher’s salary. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs are partially funded by the Department of Defense, which subsidizes instructor salaries, cadet uniforms, equipment and textbooks.
Schools pay the difference from what the instructors would receive if they were on active duty. The military service concerned then reimburses the school for about half of the amount paid by the school to the instructor.
However, Poway Unified has not been providing sufficient funds to help pay for two instructors for the district’s program, something members of the JROTC said was harmful to the program.
“There’s no reason this program shouldn’t attract the kind of fundings it needs,” said schools Superintendent John Collins. “Unfortunately, the state of California doesn’t provide it.”
Amy Musso, supply officer for the JROTC at Westview High School, told the board that the ROTC “found her” and encouraged her to be both successful and strong, but that a second instructor was desperately needed.
“By the cuts in our current economy … it’s making it difficult for this ROTC program to continue,” Musso said. “We need that second instructor.”
Collins told the audience that while 122 students is great, most of the teachers in district high schools are seeing more than 200 kids a day.
Parent Kevin Young argued that JROTC should be treated like any other program at the schools, not an elective, asking the board: “How many other programs are run with half an instructor?”
Said Young: “We believe it is a priority problem—not a funding problem.”
Other students in the programs and parents of the students recited the benefits of JROTC, including teaching leadership skills, increasing a child’s chance to go to college and helping kids have a place and belonging in life.
Ten advocates spoke out on the issue of funding.
“The one thing about the ROTC program is it’s structured,” said Kristen Taylor, who said she is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and is a single parent of two boys. “You can count on it.”
Superintendent Collins encouraged parents and current JROTC instructor Commander Rick Jordan to reach out and help fundraise to keep the program afloat, letting both parents and students know that the district doesn’t “want to lose this program.”
“Like so many of the programs we have right now, they wouldn’t be able to exist if we didn’t have parents supporting them,” Collins said. “We’ve got to work together to work this out. We all want to hang on to this program.”
For now, the JROTC program will continue to operate with one instructor.
“I feel like I’m a part of something important,” student Mathew McAfree told the board. “I love ROTC. If it’s taken away... it would be bad.”