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Originally published: 2013-04-09 01:36:35
Last modified: 2013-04-09 12:50:43

School board divides on JROTC

A new JROTC program will march on at Watauga High School next year despite dissension in the school board ranks Monday about the cost of the program.


Superintendent David Kafitz announced to the board last month that the school had received approval to host a Marine Corps Junior ROTC program, offering no clues that the decision wasn't final.


In fact, students already had been registering in anticipation of classes being offered in the fall.


But as the Board of Education convened for its meeting Monday -- its first since agreeing to a contract buyout with Kafitz -- it was clear that heated discussion of the program had been occurring behind the scenes.


While some newer board members raised concerns about the uncertain cost of the program, other more senior members recalled the years of work involved in bringing the goal to fruition.


"It's already been approved," said Chairman Lee Warren. "We can't go back and reverse this process."


The JROTC program offers courses and extracurricular activities designed to emphasize leadership, character development, physical fitness and other skills to those who may be interested in joining the armed forces.


The Marine Corps covers the costs of instructional materials, uniforms and equipment, but the school system is expected to pay a portion of the salary for two instructors.


For at least the first three years, the school system would need to pay the difference between the instructors' Marine Corps post-retirement pay and the salary they were earning before retirement, said WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson.


In addition to "making the salary whole," the school system also would likely pay $200 per month for living stipend and a roughly $1,400 per month housing allowance for each instructor, said Facilities Director Dennis Ray, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel.


Ray said JROTC recommends planning for a roughly $50,000 outlay per position for the first three years. After that, the Marine Corps will likely pick up half the cost, he said.


Until the school system identifies a potential hire, it won't know exactly how much needs to be set aside for salary.


"It sounds like it's adding up quickly," said board member Brenda Reese. " ... I would just like to know that we're not going to lose a teacher because of ROTC."


Human Resources Director Stephen Martin said he had not yet posted the senior leadership position but would need to hire for June 1, meaning a selection would probably be presented to the board for approval in May. The junior leader would not need to be in place until July, he said.


Gasperson urged the board to act quickly. He also said he had put in a lot of work on getting the JROTC program going because he had consistently received the go-ahead from prior school administrators to continue working on the program.


"If the board is going to stop this, the board needs to stop this tonight," Gasperson said.


The Mountain Alliance program currently fills the high school classroom slated for JROTC, and Gasperson couldn't immediately be reached Tuesday to determine whether other space would be available for that program.


Board member Barbara Kinsey said she was not aware that the process was so far along and said it was "tough" to make a quick decision given the reductions in school funding in recent years.


Board member Ron Henries questioned whether the funding would come from a budget request to Watauga County commissioners or from the schools' fund balance. The finance committee is expected to meet Wednesday to further discuss the funding aspect.


The board also considered comments from immediate past Chairwoman Deborah Miller, who spoke during public comment in support of JROTC.


Miller said it would be "inaccurate, if not deceitful" to imply that the program was a new proposal.


"Please allow our students to participate in this JROTC program," she said. "Allocate the shared funds necessary, and provide guidance for the JROTC program to become part of Watauga County Schools."


After much discussion, the board voted 3-1 in favor of approving the JROTC program. Warren, Henries and Vice Chairwoman Delora Hodges voted for, while Kinsey voted against. Reese abstained from the vote.



Other business


At Monday's meeting, the board also:


-- Recognized Selena Hicks as Extended Learning Center Site Director of the Year for her work at Cove Creek's afterschool program. They also recognized students who recently won awards in the state DECA competition in Greensboro.
-- Approved a contract with Western Youth Network.
-- Approved a contract with Combs, Tennant and Carpenter for annual audit services.
-- Approved a 10-cent price increase for school lunches for the 2013-14 school year to comply with federal requirements.
-- Received an update on maintenance issues, including the Cove Creek School roof replacement.
-- Approved changes to four policies: Wellness, Elementary Attendance, Threat Against the General Population and Substance Abuse.
-- Met in closed session to discuss student records, reportable offenses, personnel and attorney-client matters.