JROTC allowed in high schools

Winters Mill to be site of 1st program in county

Called a `nice addition'

1 education panel member opposes cost, suitability


October 23, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Nearly two years after Naval Reserve commander and school board member Thomas G. Hiltz first suggested that Junior ROTC might have a place in Carroll County public schools, he and his colleagues voted yesterday to start the system's first such unit at Winters Mill High School.

The measure - approved by a 4-1 vote over the objections of a board member who questioned the cost and appropriateness of inviting the military into the school system - paves the way for Winters Mill Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream to schedule a site visit with Army officials, who also must approve the school's request to start a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. The Army JROTC unit would be formed at the school next year.

Centered on leadership skills and character development and course offerings across an array of career-focused subjects - from government and geography to science and management - JROTC "would be a nice addition to the curriculum," Bream told the board.

More than 30 percent of Maryland's high schools in 14 of the state's 24 school systems offer students JROTC programs in partnership with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

According to survey data presented yesterday to the board, nearly 100 of the 694 freshmen, sophomores and juniors at Westminster's Winters Mill High who returned questionnaires - or about 11 percent of the student population - said they were interested in participating in an Army JROTC program. The school, which opened last August, does not have a senior class yet.

Of the 251 parents who returned surveys, 16.7 percent said they would encourage their children to participate in the program, and 31.5 percent said they might support their children's involvement but needed more information.

But board member Laura K. Rhodes questioned those survey results, arguing that JROTC proponents were "reaching" by including the maybes. She also expressed concern over the program's $51,000 price tag, the lookalike weapons used by JROTC drill teams and what she called her "personal philosophy" against schools partnering with the military.

"It's not a budget priority," Rhodes said, adding that the board should not spend tens of thousands of dollars for a program for only one school and that there are many initiatives "on our budget list" in the same price range that the board has not approved.

"I have great issue with bringing the military into our schools," Rhodes said. "To me, I think they should be separated."

The board's vote caps Hiltz's quest to introduce JROTC programs in the county's public school system. Hiltz, a Naval Academy graduate and Naval Reserve commander, asked the schools superintendent to look into the junior military programs after he learned less than a year into his term on the board that the county had none. He has struggled since then to win over his colleagues on the board.

Hiltz helped organize a visit for board members in December to Prince George's County's Eleanor Roosevelt High School, where school officials and students delivered an unqualified endorsement of the merits of JROTC. And when board members balked last month at the cost of hiring the military instructors required of the JROTC program, Hiltz tried to put the expenditure in the context of a $224.6 million operating budget.

"We just approved a $50,000 bid to have someone tell us how to pave our parking lots in our schools. Not even to pave them," he said at the board's Sept. 24 meeting. "I would hate for us to focus on the $50,000."

Hiltz said yesterday that he was "delighted" with the outcome of the board's vote.

"I think it's one of those issues that brings out polar reactions of some people," he said in an interview. "Either you're for the program because you believe it has a place in high schools and does some good things for students, or you think it's a breeding ground for war mongers and a training ground to get people to enlist in the military. My view has always been more toward recognizing its potential to do good for students, and my sense has always been that the community would support it."

In other business yesterday, the board:

Approved $60,000 to hire architects and engineers to develop construction recommendations and budget estimates for the school system's elementary schools that will need additional classroom space to meet the state's requirement that all kindergartners be enrolled in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

Although school and county officials are pursuing alternatives and legislative exemptions for Carroll County, schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the district must proceed with plans for all-day kindergarten "until the law is changed."

Voted in favor of giving Ecker "emergency authority" to hire contractors to repair water damage found in the school system's portable classrooms.

After emptying four movable classrooms this month at Mount Airy Middle School for fear that mold might be making teachers and children sick, school officials began a systematic inspection of all 119 of the school system's classroom trailers for signs of similar water damage. In addition to the $135,000 worth of damage discovered at Mount Airy Middle, Ecker said, crews have uncovered less serious problems with portable classrooms at North Carroll Middle. Although the units are not in use, crews are expected to begin moving teachers and pupils into the trailers early next year as work gets under way with an $18.2 million renovation of the 47-year-old school.

Appointed Mechanicsville Elementary Principal Anna Varakin as the school system's supervisor of elementary schools. Varakin will move into her new job by June 30.

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