Guest Column: Costs, value of JROTC programs

Steven Price

This column is in response to Jim Clark’s column in the Sept. 5 edition of the Bonanza, “Furor over Assembly Bill 46 is not abating.”

Specifically I want to address the costs of operating the JROTC programs in our county and their value. I am not sure how the Washoe School District arrived at the $2,207,400 cost for the JROTC units, but would like to clarify how the costs for JROTC instructors are determined by Federal Law, the separate services and school districts.

My comments are based on my having established or rebuilt and taught at three different Air Force Junior ROTC programs over 18 years.

As background, school districts submit a request for a JROTC program, whether Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force.

A survey is then conducted by the selected service and an agreement reached by the two parties. The agreement states the school will hire two instructors (ranks are dependent on the service requirements, but usually one officer and one non-commissioned officer — NCO) from a list of candidates provided by the service.

The services agree to pay half the instructor’s salary. That salary must equal what the individual would make on active duty.

As an example, if the officer would make $60,000 on active duty, then the service would pay $30,000 to the district. The officer can negotiate for a higher salary.

In my experience, if a district wants a particular candidate, they will go above the minimum, understanding they still will only receive $30,000 from the services.

Added pay usually depends on the candidate’s years of teaching experience and academic degrees. Benefits also are negotiable, but also are part of the bargaining.

So, depending on negotiations, the district in general can get two seasoned teachers for the price of one. Military services also invest heavily in textbooks (science, military studies and leadership for a four-year curriculum) plus uniforms and essential instructional equipment (e.g. computers).

The cadets must raise money to pay for unit activities, special uniforms and equipment. The school district provides classroom space and the same administrative support provided to other teachers.

I do not think that the above adds up to $2,207,400 for the 11 JROTC units in Washoe County.

Please note that JROTC instructors must be retired from active service before assuming instructor duties. They are hired and evaluated as district teachers. They wear their service uniform as part of their duties.

To be fully successful, instructors teach five periods per day and spend many hours after school and on weekends and holidays completing both community service (local nonprofits, city/community activities etc.) and military activities (parades, color guards, competitions and unit events).

All of those required preparation. I arrived at 6:30 a.m. and departed around 5 p.m. daily. A normal week was 70-plus hours.

In general, the officer instructs academics and deals with actions outside the unit. The NCO centers his attention on drill and ceremonies, leadership labs, plus management of government properties. Both instructors are critical to the success of a program and work as a team.

Ask any knowledgeable individual what they think about JROTC and you’ll find near universal agreement that it is probably one of the best leadership, character development and citizenship programs available to young people today. Why? Because the cadets practice those qualities daily.

Contrary to what most people think about academic achievement in JROTC, I had two salutatorians; at least 15 in the top 10 of their classes; and 11 of my former cadets attended one the service academies.

Also, I estimate 20 of my seniors garnered 4-year collage ROTC scholarships at great universities including Cal Berkley, USC and UCLA. Another 10 percent of graduating seniors enlisted in the military. Nearly all who stayed for four years went on to a two- or four-year college.

Those cadets who only stayed a year or two will tell of its positive impact on their life. Finally, I had every type of student including those with learning disabilities, English language learners (many nationalities) and those with disabilities.

For proof of a program’s value, you need look no further than the outstanding success of our Incline High School Army JROTC program. Thirty-one years of outstanding evaluations; 73 cadets out of a student body of 325; multiple contributions to the community; and, an enviable number of scholarships awarded to graduates.

Steven Price is a retired USAF colonel. He retired from teaching in 2010 and resides in Incline Village.

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