Is Ogden's JROTC program on the cutting block?

Apr 10 2013 - 8:28pm

OGDEN -- Ogden School District superintendent Brad Smith on Wednesday denied claims the district plans to shut down its junior ROTC program, which serves about 365 students at two high schools and three junior highs.

"It's b.s.," Smith said. "It's just completely off the stable floor."

An anonymous email sent to news outlets charged that district officials held a secret meeting to discuss ending JROTC, and planned to finalize the decision at Monday's school board meeting.

Except on rare exceptions, OSD always holds its board meetings on Thursdays. And that stuff about a secret meeting?

"This board does not operate in secret, which is against the law," Smith said. "You've got a lawyer as a superintendent. I am not stupid."

Smith said that does not mean the JROTC program is safe.

"I am examining every budget to see where we can make a savings," he said. "It's no secret we have a budget deficit in our district. We have a $2.7 million deficit projected going into the 2013-2014 school year, and our savings is to a point where it's probably not prudent to dip into it more. It's certainly not acute, but every expenditure in this district is a potential cut."

But the only budget cut made so far is the one announced last month, that the district no longer intends to fund the operation of the Ben Lomond and Ogden high school pools with funds better used in the classroom. The pools will remain open only if the public votes in June to fund the pools' repair and ongoing operation with a small property tax increase.

All other significant budget decisions still lay ahead, Smith said. The 2013-2014 budget doesn't go to the board for discussion and approval until June, he said.
"You know how rumors fly around here," Smith said.

Major Kit Workman, United States Air Force (retired), who teaches JROTC at Clearfield High, said he had not heard the rumors about Ogden cutting its program.

But Workman said program cutbacks have become more common in recent years.

"The Navy has been actively shutting down units that don't have the minimum number of participants," Workman said.

The Air Force also is aggressively shutting down units that don't meet minimum standards, Workman said. ROTC programs are funded half by their branch of the military and half by their home school districts, he said. The Ogden district program is under the U.S. Army.

"At any time, either entity can say they no longer want to participate," Workman said. "It's unfortunate, because it's a program of great benefit to the schools because of the value it brings to the kids."

Col. Douglas Tellson, senior Army instructor (retired), heads the ROTC program at Ogden High and shares duties for teaching at the district's junior high schools. Also sharing the work is Army Lt. Col. Jim Adams (retired), based at Ben Lomond High School.

Tellson declined to discuss the rumors, but agreed to talk about the JROTC's mission.

"We teach leadership, decision making strategies and financial management," he said. "We teach college prep and military history. We have some extra curricular activities, such as marksmanship, and we have a fitness team that goes to challenges. Our drill team was No. 1 in the state this year."

Tellson said standard high school classes on history or financial planning might pick up some of the slack if JROTC classes were discontinued, but no other core subject focuses on leadership.

Workman said the big question looming is whether sequestration will cost JROTC so much funding it will have to slash or discontinue its high school and junior high programs.

"We are finding some support for our program has been cut off this year," he said. "We are sitting by to see what else might happen."

Donna Corby, Ogden School District spokeswoman, said sequestration funding cuts have left everyone with uncertain budgets.

"Even they (the JROTC) may come back at the end of the summer with changes when they get a good look at their budgets," she said.

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