Bulloch County Board of Education members are considering eliminating the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) due to budget reasons, but members of the school and community made please Thursday that the board reconsider.
Bulloch County Schools Assistant Superintendent Charles Wilson said the consideration came into being as part of the “attrition mode” the school system is currently in. Each school has 10 positions to be eliminated through attrition as a cost-savings measure, and by eliminating positions through attrition — when someone retires or quits —the cuts are less painful than lay-offs, he said.
So, when a Portal JROTC instructor announced retirement plans, the BOE had to decide a plan of action.
“The Portal JROTC program has lost one of the U.S. Army-required two instructors,” said BOE spokesperson Hayley Greene. “With the district in staff attrition mode, the administration has been faced with the decision to either replace the position or bus Portal JROTC students to Statesboro High School for these classes.”
Portal citizens with children in the JROTC program, as well as other community supporters, disagree with busing students to another school.
Pam Fielder is a mother of four - two children who are “upcoming cadets,” a former cadet who is now a U.S. Marine, and a current JROTC cadet. She doesn't want her children bused to another school and doesn't want to see the program eliminated.
JROTC “helps prepare cadets for the reality of life,” she told the board. “We have the facilities, we have the interest,” but busing students to another school will reduce interest, she said.
She provided petitions and letters from community members who showed support for keeping JROTC in Portal Middle/High School.
Others spoke in favor of keeping the program at the smallest public high school in Bulloch County.
Rev. Donald Logan offered statistics showing how involvement in JROTC helps keep students in school. The program is not an extracurricular activity like art or music, but provides training including life skills and “provides necessary screening” needed before a cadet can go up for active duty in the military, he said.
JROTC “not only trains youth for the military, but trains for leadership and provides a potential well rounded citizen,” he said.
Former Bulloch County Board of Education member Larry Ellgass also spoke in favor of keeping JROTC at Portal.
He described the Portal community as “the epitome of parental involvement” and said JROTC is “the foundation of these young people's lives.”
Portal Class of 2010 Valedictorian Marjani Hall, who is also the class president and 2010 STAR student, also urged the board to consider keeping the program. She said the JROTC program, as well as the old Portal gym, which is being considered for demolition, are “the foundations of Portal (High School).”
She pointed out that art classes had been cut at Portal Middle/High School, and “now you're (considering) cutting JROTC? You treat us as if we are an island when we are all part of Bulloch County.” She asked that the board give “equal treatment for Portal.”
Her father, Alfonso Hall, suggested Portal citizens with an interest in the school be consulted before cuts are made.
“No disrespect, Mr. Ball (BOE Chairman David Ball), but you're not from Portal,” he said. “You can represent Portal, but you're not from Portal.
He said JROTC cuts would “cause more harm than good” and said there is a decided mistrust between Portal citizens and the BOE.
Working with Portal in making decisions would ease a lot of that, he said. “Get Portal on your team. If you don't have them on your team, they will continue to be a thorn in your side,” he said.
Thursday's school board meeting saw a room filled to capacity, with the majority of visitors attending due to the issues concerning Portal High School and the fate of its old gymnasium and JROTC program.
The Bulloch County BOE has not made an official decision regarding the JROTC program.