This posting was compiled by Nancy Bedell.
The Military Service Dialogue Committee of the Institute for Global Education (IGE) began its work in 2003 by among other activities, studying the military presence of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in the public schools.
We decided to focus on GRPS because it houses the only JROTC program in Kent County and because we assumed the JROTC affected the numbers recruited in the city high schools. Our information was received in writing after several meetings and questions to the previous Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Bert Bleke.
We were interested to learn about JROTC curriculum qualifications and pay of JROTC instructors, total cost to the district, numbers of enrollees and were somewhat startled by the information we gleaned.
We learned that the JROTC curriculum is devised by the Department of Defense and includes a variety of subjects, not only physical education and training, but including civics, military history, personal decision-making, motivational issues, drug awareness, sexual-harassment, values education among others. This material is taught by career Army officers in retirement with no teaching training required, although a provisional certification is awarded to the instructors at the request of the school district by the state. Students attend one class daily (of six high school periods) for their entire four years of high school with the same single instructor all year in each high school. The Army retirees are teaching this wide variety of courses with no college major or minor coursework required in any of the subjects taught.
There are no firearms used in training, but imitation equipment is used, so that the appearance of drilling and combat are taking place in our public schools!
From the years 2000-2005 approximately 1000 students per year participated in the JROTC program. It is estimated by the district that 10-15% of JROTC graduates are recruited.
The Federal Government determines salaries of the retired Army-instructors, so the JROTC instructors are plugged into the school district’s 18-step pay scale based on the federal predetermined pay rate. The step they have achieved, therefore, does not necessarily have any relationship to their educational achievement or years of teaching experience. In 2004-5 the four JROTC teachers’ salaries totaled $488,160! Their supervisor who works on a 52 week-contract was paid $76,000. The entire budget for JROTC-GRPS for that year totaled over $500,000. Certain estimated benefit costs and revenue from the government had reduced the total budget from $698,000. Our committee was amazed at the cost of this program.
The former superintendent opined when we wondered if the program could ever be dissolved, that it provides intrinsic benefits to students who are followed all year by usually charismatic JROTIC instructors who serve as mentors. Social camping/weekend events outside school tend to solidify the group and raise morale. Undoubtedly an additional consequence is that graduates have been primed to enlist as the result of a well-designed program and carefully selected instructors.
One additional goal of our committee was to pursue the possibility of providing a clear and well-explained opt-out form for parents and students of GRPS. Currently as a requirement of the 2002 No Child Left Behind federal law the Department of Defense/recruiters may access personal information about any high school student unless the parent (under age 18 of the student) or the student (at age 18) has requested the opt-out in writing. The information about opt-out in the GRPS publications is hidden in a generic school district publication and not clearly applicable to students enrolling for high school. The committee asked if we could add an opt-out form to the high school registration packet received by parents. Our request was denied. The district believes that too much additional paperwork would be involved by adding this form. Given the lack of parent organizations in GRPS high schools which might have been interested in this matter, the Committee now plans to visit high schools regularly during the lunch hour in the coming school year and provide information to students directly. We have presented our information to school counselors and hope they will also pass on information about recruiting and the opt-out possibility.
Our Committee continues to work on other projects, including a student video project and plans another conference to inform young people and their parents about the military. You are invited to join our efforts by calling IGE at 454-1642.