School system considering pay reductions for junior ROTC instructors

The Richmond County School System is considering shortening the employment contracts of its 20 junior ROTC instructors beginning next year.

As one way to deal with staggering budget cuts from state and federal programs, the Richmond County School System is considering shortening the employment contracts of its 20 junior ROTC instructors beginning next year.

Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill sent a memo to high school principals Friday stating that instructors will drop from 12-month to 11-month contracts for the 2013-14 year and to 10 months in 2014-15.

After a discussion in a superintendent’s cabinet meeting Wednesday, however, Hill said administrators are reconsidering the change and have held off on the reduction for now.

“What we’re going to do is evaluate that program across all of the branches of the military and then make the best decision,” Hill said Wednesday. He said more thought is being given toward junior ROTC contract cuts after “one of the other branches of the military sent us some additional communication,” although he could not say which branch or the nature of the information.

Each military branch reimburses the system roughly 50 percent of the salaries for the instructors, who are all retired service members. Anita Faglier, the director of finance and accounting, said the district has two Air Force, eight Army, five Marine and five Navy instructors.

Because of the federal sequestration, the Air Force recently said it would limit its reimbursement for school systems to only 10 months, the minimum contract length required for junior ROTC instructors by law.

Faglier said Richmond County junior ROTC instructor pay ranges from $3,414 to $7,160 a month, depending on the employee’s rank and time with the system.

Although the reimbursement change would affect only Air Force personnel, the reduction announced Friday would be applied to the 18 instructors under the other military branches also.

“You’re taking food off my table; you’re taking money out of my pocket; you’re taking away from things I could do with my family,” said Army junior ROTC instructor Noel Cartagena, who has worked at the Academy of Richmond County for 13 years after 30 years in the Army. “I think about the fellow instructors below me. I know folks who have been in the program a long, long time, and this is like stealing.”

Cartagena said junior ROTC instructors spend dozens of hours every year working after school, on weekends and through the summer to help with fundraisers, competition trips and training programs.

This cut could keep many from spending those extra hours bettering the programs and investing in students off the clock.

“Taking a month’s pay or two months’ pay out of someone’s salary is traumatic,” Cartagena said.

Richmond County officials are in discussions for the 2013-14 budget and will present a proposed budget to the board of education later in the summer. Until then, administrators are deliberating how to deal with proposed cuts from the state, which have topped $113 million over the past 10 years.

Cross Creek High School Navy junior ROTC instructor Johnathan Shaw said he realizes the district is facing hard times but believes human capital is one of the most valuable resources.

Shaw said the loss of support and finances would be enough to make him and others look for employment in other districts.

In summer, he and Cross Creek’s three other instructors help with three major cadet camps, instructor training, locker preparation and clerical work, which they would have to do for free with the contract reduction.

“I love the kids at Cross Creek, but I can only do so much with limited support,” he said.

Cross Creek is also preparing to receive almost $2 million to renovate a new classroom wing, a rifle range, storage space and a second gym for its expanding Academy of Military Science magnet program, which launched in 2011. The goal is to increase the program’s current 321 cadet enrollment over the next few years by opening the application process to students outside Cross Creek’s attendance zone.

Shaw said he fears the impact on the promising program if the cuts are enacted.

“I’m not doubting the school board has to make difficult decisions, but they have to evaluate how they go about it,” he said. “I’m not going to be in a scenario where I’m not appreciated.”

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