Flowery Branch High School will not have a JRTOC program next fall — despite recruiting efforts by current members that reached more than the 100 members administrators said was needed, according to two parents.
Jason Carter, principal at Flowery Branch High School, said March 28 the program had been taught for three years and never had met the numbers required to received authorization and money from the Air Force.
“The Air Force was notified that we were attempting to recruit more students,” Carter said.
“The response from them was it is probably too late because we had been on probation because we only have 55 on roll currently.
“I, along with Major Magnusson, advised parents that the minimum for the Air Force was 100, but we needed more than 100 signed up because we started with over 100 the last two years and students drop the class.”
According to an email from Major Wayne Magnusson, head of the JROTC program, the Air Force decision was received Friday. The Air Force said it would deactivate the Flowery Branch unit at the end of this year “due to low enrollment and the district’s refusal to hire a second instructor.”
The program’s second instructor, Sgt. Al Desphy, will retire at the end of the school year.
Hall County has paid the salary of both instructors — about $165,000 for salary and benefits — Superintendent Will Schofield said March 28.
JROTC members went to Davis Middle School March 29 to make a recruitment pitch to students.
Susan Smith, mother of a JROTC member, said the students recruited 52 students at the middle school.
“That's 107 students who want to be in the program, she said. “The goal was reached. The cadets did what they were asked to do.”
“Why isn’t the administration honoring (its) offer to allow us to recruit to reach the required minimum? What kind of message does it send to our students when it is stated that if they reach a certain number they can keep the program and they actually achieve it, but the administration does not follow through?” Smith asked.
Mike Herrington, president of the parent booster club for JROTC, said Monday by email, “Susan, along with myself and the other parents, are extremely disappointed in how this whole thing has turned out. We were brought in on an emergency meeting and told that we didn’t have the numbers to substantiate the salary of a second instructor and without two instructors, the Air Force would no longer support the program.
“We were all shocked to learn that we were only given about a week to do anything about it. We asked questions and were told that if we could get the numbers back above 100 that we could save the program.”
Added Herrington: “As you know, we, in fact, did exceed the 100 cadet threshold. We were then told we needed to find another 25 or 30 cadets to save the program. I really don’t think (the administration) ever imagined that we would be able to find enough kids to sign up for the program voluntarily.”
Carter said, “As I stated before, this was an Air Force decision to close the program due (to) lack of numbers. Unfortunately, all of the efforts are too late. The instructors knew we had a minimum number to meet. It was not my decision, nor the decision of the board to drop the program, it was the Air Force.”
Herrington said late Monday afternoon that parents had talked with Major Bob Dawson, head of operations at Air Force JROTC headquarters in Alabama.
“He says he shows no record that the Air Force shut down our program. We passed inspection and the Air Force is backing the program,” Herrington said in an email.
“If the program is being shut down, it is by the school system and not the Air Force. This is the opposite of what we are being told by the administration at the school.”
Smith said the board of education should re-evaluate its decision about hiring a second instructor. The issue has not been presented publicly to the school board.
Schofield said March 28 the program would not continue if the participation did not increase.
“Well, participation has almost doubled. Will the system now continue the program?” Smith asked.
Smith also said the Flowery Branch says the “leadership pathway” will be JROTC and it is the only leadership pathway. If JROTC is discontinued, doesn’t that violate the school’s charter, she asked.
“I know one thing, if this was the football team, or any other sports program, we would not be having this discussion,” Herrington said.