School board votes to dump
By Jill Tucker, Chronicle 15 November 2006
After 90 years in San Francisco high schools, the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps must go, the San Francisco school board decided Tuesday night. The board voted 4-2 to eliminate the popular program, phasing it out over two years.
Dozens of JROTC cadets at the board meeting burst into tears or covered their faces after the votes were cast.
"We're really shocked," said fourth-year Cadet Eric Chu, a senior at Lowell High School, his eyes filling with tears. "It provided me with a place to go."
The proposal approved by the board also creates a task force to develop alternatives to the program that will be tried out next year at various high schools. The board's decision was loudly applauded by opponents of the program. Their position was summed up by a former teacher, Nancy Mancias, who said, "We need to teach a curriculum of peace."
The board's move to dismantle the popular program was led by board members Dan Kelly and Mark Sanchez with support from Sarah Lipson and Eric Mar. Casting votes against it were Jill Wynns and Norman Yee. Board member Eddie Chin was absent.
"I think people should not despair too much," said Sanchez. "I think now the work begins. To work within the community to develop new programs that will fulfill the needs of our students."
About 1,600 San Francisco students participate in JROTC at seven high schools across the district. Opponents said the armed forces should have no place in public schools, and the military's discriminatory stance on gays makes the presence of
"We don't want the military ruining our civilian institutions,
Students, parents and school staff from each of the seven high schools converged outside the school board meeting carrying signs and waving at cars, some of which honked in support. At least 100 cadets edged into Franklin Street waving their signs before being pushed back to the sidewalk by their ROTC instructors.
Yet, in the end, the effort -- one of several rallies in the last several weeks -- fell on deaf ears. "This is where the kids feel safe, the one place they feel safe," Robert Powell, a JROTC instructor at Lincoln High School and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said earlier in the evening. "You're going to take that away from them?" Opponents acknowledged the program is popular and even helps some students stay in school and out of trouble. Yet they also said the program exists to lure students to sign up for the armed forces.
"It's basically a branding program, or a recruiting program for the military," Kelly said before the meeting. The school district and the military share the $1.6 million annual cost of the program, with the military paying $586,000, or half the salaries of 15
instructors -- all of whom are retired military personnel. The district pays the other half of salaries and $394,000 in benefits.
Earlier, Mayor Gavin Newsom weighed in on the debate, chastising the board for the effort to eliminate JROTC.
"The move sends the wrong message," he said. "It's important for the city not to be identified with disrespecting the sacrifice of men and women in uniform." Students in the program receive physical education or elective credits required for graduation.
A budget analysis found that the district could hire nine teachers with the money the district now spends on JROTC -- enough to cover the gym and elective courses for the 1,600 students should the program be eliminated.
But there wouldn't be money to create an alternative program serving that many students, said Wynns. "I think the people who want to get rid of it have a responsibility to look at how we're going to pay for that and what we're going to do to replace it," she added. Newsom also said he believed the vote would push more city residents away from the public schools.
"You think this is going to help keep families in San Francisco?" the mayor added. "No. It's going to hurt." On other matters, the board introduced a resolution that makes race a factor in deciding what school a child will attend starting with the 2008-09 school year. No action was taken.