The school board on Tuesday heard pleas from several parents, students and concerned citizens to keep the district’s NJROTC program up and running after the U.S. Navy pulls its share of funding in the next school year.
Before a standing-room-only crowd at the Wall Township Board of Education meeting this week, nearly a dozen people — including three NJROTC cadets — addressed board members in the school’s cafeteria, and asked them to fully fund the program once the Navy stops covering half of the bill at the end of this school year.
The Navy funds half of any NJROTC program with 100 or more members, but since Wall’s enrollment is currently at 63, the program will be short $58,000 to pay its two fulltime instructors for the 2012-13 school year, according to officials. That means either the district will have to make up the difference or be forced to cut the program until the enrollment reaches 100.
After hearing nearly a dozen pleas over the course of an hour from parents, residents and current cadets, board President John Tavis said that although in past years the board was forced to cut clubs with low numbers, the board has since learned that the size of an organization does not necessarily measure its impact on students.
“Even if a club had only three people in it, to those three people it might have been what kept them interested in school,” Tavis said. “So hopefully we know that it’s not just based on numbers. And the ROTC is much more than just a club.”
One parent, Julie Layden, of Johnson Street, said she has been collecting signatures on a petition to help keep the program alive.
Layden, with a son and daughter in the program, said that in addition to having 1,300 signatures, she also has ideas to recruit more cadets to get the enrollment up. She said she wants to create a cadet outreach program in the intermediate and elementary schools, where current cadets could serve as mentors and “reading buddies” to younger students, hopefully enticing them to join when they get old enough.
“I remember what it was like in ninth grade, and I didn’t want to stand out,” Layden said. “It would help these elementary school kids and these intermediate school kids to see these (cadets) that are standing out for the right reason.”
Paul Huetter, of Walling Avenue, said he has seen his once-shy daughter grow into a confident young woman who learned valuable life skills from the program.
“When she entered high school she was a little awkward. She’s a junior now, and she’s a lot more confident. I really think that the program helped her.”
Another resident, Chris Gramiccioni, of Troy Drive, said he went through the ROTC programs in high school and college, and hoped one day his young children would have the same opportunity one day.
“I have two children that, with any luck with your assistance, are going to be members of the NJROTC classes of ’23 and ’25,” Gramiccioni said.
Having served as an officer in the Navy and currently an assistant county prosecutor, Gramiccioni has seen good leadership qualities first-hand, and as a former cadet himself, credits the program with giving him the tools to get where he is today, he said.
“It’s not just preparing them with an education, it’s preparing them to be men and women of character and integrity and this is the type of program that grows those traits and principals,” Gramiccioni said.
Emily Luttman, a cadet and junior at the high school, read a statement to the board in which she said her fellow cadets had become family and pleaded to let them stay that way.
“Do not allow us to become lost in the shuffle. Allow us to grow into the future upstanding citizens that you see before you. Allow us to remain together as a family and as an integral part of the high school. Do not leave us behind,” Luttman read from her statement.
The parents, Layden said, would be willing to raise money for the uniforms and trips if the school board would foot the $58,000 bill to pay the program’s two instructors. She would also work to get enrollment up to 100 cadets, she said.
“I promise you that I will not quit until that happens,” Layden said.
Tavis said the board would keep the public updated on the budget process which should become more detailed in December.
"We’ll give you updates and let you know what’s happening and you will not find out at the budget presentation," he said. "We’ll let you know how we’re doing so it won’t be a surprise at the eleventh hour."