The U.S. Navy, which has funded the program for more than a decade, has announced it is abandoning ship because of budget cuts and the lack of student interest.
To support an NJROTC program, the U.S. Navy requires 10 percent of students to enroll. The current high school enrollment is 1,014; a little more than 80 student are in the program.
The cutbacks are part of a service-wide reduction aimed at maintaining only 522 NJROTC programs nationwide.
The Navy placed the Beeville Independent School District on probation last year because of its not meeting the enrollment criteria.
“We thought, maybe, the Navy wouldn’t follow through because it was an election year,” says Dr. Sue Thomas, BISD superintendent. “But the unit here will be ‘disestablished’ — that’s their word — in June of 2013.”
The Navy will require BISD to return all uniforms, equipment — such as drill rifles — and curriculum materials by next June.
“It was with a heavy heart and sadness that I got the letter,” says Mae Blevins of Beeville, who has two grandchildren enrolled in the program.
However, the school’s program might continue.
BISD is considering adopting an alternate program called the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC).
Under this program, BISD would have to pay for the uniforms, the necessary equipment and the instructor’s salary. Under the current program, the Navy pays 40 percent of the instructor’s salary.
However, before the district could apply for the alternate program, a minimum of 50 physically fit BISD students would be expected to enroll.
Thomas says she plans to float the idea before the BISD board.
She also plans to poll students at A.C. Jones to gauge their interest, and if it is sufficient, to contact local veterans groups to seek additional financial support.
Frank Gonzales, commander of the local VFW chapter, says that while his organization’s budget is tight, he thought his members might contribute up to $300. He suggests he might be able to raise as much as $3,000 by sponsoring a fundraiser in combination with the local Vietnam Veterans of America and American Legion members.
“We’re all for the program,” he says, “because those students are our future leaders.”
How much student interest is the key. But when JHS Principal Jaime Rodriguez sent a letter to parents in August announcing the cancelation of the NJROTC program, only one parent responded, according to Thomas.
“I personally think it’s a great program,” Thomas says. “It teaches leadership and teamwork. I’d hate to see us have nothing.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.