Many of city schools' JROTC programs may be forced to shut down this year

Funding, loss of staff because of pay blamed

April 09, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Supporters of the Baltimore City schools' Junior ROTC program say it may be forced to shut down at several sites because of a dispute over instructor pay and problems over funding.

All nine of Baltimore's neighborhood high schools, two citywide high schools and two alternative high schools offer Junior ROTC as an elective course, and about 2,000 students are enrolled.

But Warren Kiilehua, a retired Army colonel and JROTC facilitator for the school system, said programs at Southwestern High and Southern High will be phased out at the end of the academic year in part because the schools can't afford them.

Instructors at several other schools are considering jobs elsewhere because they didn't get the same pay increase other teachers received last summer, he said.

Each school is required to have two military-certified instructors to run the program, which involves academics and extracurricular activities, such as drill team. Under a cost-sharing arrangement, one instructor is provided by the military at no expense to the school system.

"A whole bunch of folks are now just in limbo," Kiilehua said. "[The instructors] are sitting out there and considering what to do next."

He said it has become increasingly difficult to fill vacancies, "so if any of these folks decide, `Well, thanks for the memories, guys, but we're leaving,' I don't know how we're going to fill these positions."

Pay issue

Ted Thornton, the school system's human resources director, said JROTC instructors were offered a 3 percent pay raise last summer but turned it down. He said they were dropped from the new pay scale because they are not certified as teachers by the state and are paid under a separate agreement with the armed services.

Thornton said some of the instructors - whose salaries range from $29,449 to $48,711 - earn more than the military mandates.

JROTC instructors are considered teachers, he said, because they teach in the classroom. But, he added, "We will not pay them on the same level as teachers because we don't credential them on the same level."

The Baltimore Teachers Union filed a grievance on behalf of the JROTC instructors last fall. That complaint was resolved recently in the school system's favor, Thornton said.

In a November memo to schools chief Carmen V. Russo, Kiilehua described the city's compensation package for JROTC instructors as "one of the least desirable in Maryland."

The memo said 10 instructors have left the city for jobs in other JROTC programs in the past seven years, and that, in some cases, finding replacements has taken more than a year. Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy has had a vacancy since June.

Kiilehua said he doesn't know whether the JROTC programs at Poly, Walbrook, Edmondson-Westside and Forest Park will have enough staff to operate next year if the pay issue is not addressed. The program at Northern may also end because it failed a recent reinspection by the Navy, he said.

In addition to budget cuts, school officials said declining enrollment is another reason the programs are being phased out at Southern and Southwestern.

Not giving up

Karen Goldsborough, whose son William, 16, is in the Forest Park JROTC, is hoping to save the program there.

Goldsborough said the program has given the cadets direction and taught them discipline and self-confidence.

"They don't get intimidated by peer pressure, and it's a good thing," she said. "These instructors have been right there for them - with them - all the way."

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