County students combat possible JROTC cuts
Proposal would limit $6M program to five schools, cut expenses in half
More than 30 Prince George's County students spoke out Tuesday against a proposal to remove junior ROTC programs from all but a handful of county high schools.
The students were among 60 registered speakers and more than 200 attendees at a board of education budget hearing at the Sasscer Administration Building in Upper Marlboro. County schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has proposed $155 million in budget cuts for the coming fiscal year, brought on by rising costs, declining revenue and an anticipated $20 million cut in state funding.
Among the proposed cuts in the school system's $1.6 billion budget is a plan to consolidate the county's JROTC programs now present in nearly all county high schools into just five schools. Officials said the move would save the system $3 million, but many JROTC members argued it would rob many future students of the program's character-building benefits.
"Without it, we would be entirely different people," said Matthew Mulheran, 17, a senior in the Air Force JROTC program at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro. "It has taught me leadership skills, time management, attention to detail everything I need to be successful later in life."
About 6,400 county students are enrolled in at least one JROTC course this year, said Duane Arbogast, county schools chief academic officer. Students have the option of taking as many JROTC courses as they wish, ranging from a full curriculum to a single class.
The proposed realignment would eliminate anything less than full JROTC participation and would require JROTC students to attend one of the five schools. The change would eliminate 41 of the county's current 80 JROTC employee positions, cutting the $6 million program's cost in half.
"While we're trying the best we can to hold classrooms harmless, cuts that large are unavoidable," Hite said. "Things that we've had the luxury to provide schools in the past, we just don't have anymore."
While school board members said they would like to hear proposals for alternate cuts that would prevent unpopular classroom cuts like the JROTC program and class-size increases, they said their best hope continues to be added funding from the state or county.
Hite said officials will lobby state and county legislators for more funds, and that if the school system receives additional funding, its first priority would be to prevent proposed class-size increases that would eliminate 259 teaching positions. The futures of JROTC and many other programs are unresolved.
"If we don't get this $20 million from the state, I am afraid of what's going to happen to the budget," said school board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) of Bowie. "We want the citizens to know this is not just us deciding to cherry-pick what to do. These are tough times, and it's not just Prince George's County."
The public will have its final chance to address the board Thursday. The board will discuss the budget at a Feb. 19 work session before adopting a budget Feb. 24. The adopted budget will then be finalized in June, after the county and state determine their levels of funding.