LHS may lose ROTC program
By LPR Staff
Low enrollment numbers could cause the Federal government to shut down Lockhart High School”s Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJROTC) program next year.
According to a letter to the Lockhart Independent School District dated Jan. 5, 2007, Title 10 of the United States Code requires that the program maintain enrollment of either
100 students or 10 percent of the school”s student population, whichever is the least, to ensure federal funding for the AFJROTC program. LISD records indicate that as of October 2006, only 68 students are enrolled in the program.
“When the program started, our numbers were great,” said Capt. Bob Fiore, the director of the LISD program. “Changes in scheduling from a block schedule to a seven-period schedule have hurt those numbers.”
Fiore also suggested that a misunderstanding between students, parents and administrators could be in part responsible for low enrollment.
“We aren”t a recruiting program, and I”m not sure that”s being explained to the parents or the students when they talk about enrolling,” he said. “If our students choose to enlist in the military after high school, some of the things they learn here can give them a leg up in that area. But most of our students decide to do other things.”
Fiore also speculates that the program is not properly prioritized by administration.
“This is the only program in the school that I”m aware of that has a contract with the government that determines how many students have to enroll,” he said. “I”m not saying that any of the other programs are more or less important, but the obligation to enroll the kids under this contract is something that we know about, and that administration knows about, and that we should be focusing on.”
Under the contract, the government provides funds for student uniforms and training materials, as well as one-half the salaries for the two instructors, Fiore and MSgt. Mario Silva.
“The things that the students are learning in this program are things they really can”t get anywhere else in high school,” Silva said. “They are responsible for running their organization. They are responsible for their projects and managing themselves. They are chosen to hold certain positions and do certain jobs, and they are accountable to one another if they don”t do their jobs. They learn so much more through that than they do from the Aerospace Education side of the program.”
Silva maintains that the AFJROTC program is a leadership skills and a life skills program, more than a pre-military training. In fact, he and Fiore do not invite recruiters to speak with the AFJROTC classes, and will only allow recruiter presentations when recruiters specifically ask.
“Everything I did on Lockhart campus, I did through Capt. Fiore and MSgt Silva,” said MSgt. Diana Gutierrez, a United States Marine Corps recruiter stationed out of San Antonio. “They always welcomed me on campus when I was working in Lockhart, but they never asked me to come over and talk to this kid or that one.”
If the AFJROTC program fails to meet the required minimum number of students, the program will be disbanded. Should the funding be revoked, Fiore said, it will be years, if ever, before Lockhart can apply for a new program.
“All ROTC branches are funded under Title 10,” he said. “So it”s not like they can ask to have a Marine Corps ROTC or a Navy ROTC if we lose the Air Force program. You can change branches if you have a viable program, but if your program isn”t viable, budget requirements are going to dictate that [the government] gives that money to a program that can make itself viable.”
Fiore and Silva claim that Lockhart”s program is the only one in the area that is struggling for student participation, and say they hope the community and administration will come together to support the program.
“There are a number of reasons why this is happening,” Silva said. “And we”ve been worried for some time that it might. The only thing we can do now is wait and see what happens during enrollment for next year.”
The announcement last week that the program might close sent shockwaves through the community and caused some of Lockhart”s most influential citizens to sit up and take notice.
“I”ve taken meetings with several school board members, and I intend to meet with the rest of them,” said former Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Lydia C. Serna, II. “This program is so valuable to the kids, and to the community, that we can”t just let it go away.”
Precinct One Justice of the Peace and retired Army colonel M. Louis Cisneros parroted Serna”s sentiments.
“Here in town, we see all the good things this program does,” he said. “The students leave the program with a sense of self esteem and a sense of self-reliance that I don”t see them getting from other places. That”s valuable, not only to the children, but to the community.”
Cisneros also said he has seen the positive effects of a strong ROTC program in battle.
“Some of the young men I served with came from ROTC programs at the college level,” he said. “Even though the ROTC program isn”t a recruiting program, you could just tell that the [young men and women] who participated in an ROTC had something different in them than the kids that didn”t.”
Cisneros and Serna, along with several other members of the community, have expressed steadfast support for the AFROTC program and hope that more members of the community will join in that support.
“I”m worried that the only thing we”re going to be able to do to save this program is to put pressure on the school district, starting at the top,” Cisneros said. “And that”s something that, as a community, I hope we are ready to do.”