JROTC at the Budget committee

Tonight the Board’s Budget committee took up the resolution to reinstate JROTC, the first of three committees to consider the measure before it returns to the full board for a final vote.

Most of the discussion centered on figures distributed by Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh which were intended to explain the fiscal impact of reinstating the program. No one really disputes the money the district pays out for this program — 50 percent of the instructors’ salaries (12 FTEs), which is $529,622, plus the cost of their benefits, $354,330 — a total of $883,952.

Mr. Leigh presented what he called a “conceptual proxy” for the program, which assumes the need for additional teachers/sections of electives and physical education but no replacement course or additional curriculum. Essentially, the proxy assumes that students currently enrolled in JROTC would instead take required physical education and existing electives (e.g., a foreign language or other non-required course) and estimates that this would cost the district an additional $232,620.

Now, some people will subtract $232,620 from $883,952 and say that ending the program will save the district $651,332 every year.  They’d be wrong. For one thing, this analysis fails to take into account the afterschool and weekend volunteer hours the instructors put in as part of the public service component of the JROTC curriculum. It also fails to account for the cost of the curriculum and equipment provided to students at no cost to the district. By Mr. Leigh’s own analysis, when those things are taken into account, the value of  JROTC to district students is $989,628; if students were enrolled in an existing elective that provided a similar level of out-of-school support and resources, the comparable cost to the district would be $975,530 — in other words, essentially the same as JROTC.

I’ve said in the past that I fully support alternatives to JROTC, including the SERV program currently under development with the City’s Office of Emergency Services. Tonight’s analysis didn’t take into account what we’ve spent developing SERV, as well as the Ethnic Studies course piloted as a JROTC replacement (even the Bay Guardian admits this was a bad idea) — and it should have. Some of my colleagues say there are pots of money available from the Federal government to develop SERV, and hopefully they’re right. However, judging from how long it’s taking just to get our stimulus funds, I’m not holding my breath. In the current economic climate, I’m doubtful that there is a Federal grants fairy out there just waiting to dole out — let’s be real — hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a curriculum and create a program, however well-conceived, and hundreds of thousands more to pay for the ongoing expenses of running that program.  If that money materializes, that’s great: let’s create the program and offer students a true alternative.

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