Penn Hills High School JROTC program could be eliminated
The Naval Junior ROTC program at Penn Hills High School is in danger of being eliminated.
District officials said it’s likely going to be cut from next school year’s activities due to declining enrollment.
The program has been offered to Penn Hills students for at least the past 14 years and currently has about 30 cadets.
A minimum of 100 cadets is required for the program to receive federal support.
Superintendent Nancy Hines said there is an option for the district to fully fund the program if the number of cadets reaches 50. It costs Penn Hills about $160,000 annually with federal support and could cost about $400,000 to fully fund the program via just district coffers.
Hines, whose daughter was a cadet commander in 2004, said a slew of recruiting efforts over the past several years have not proved fruitful.
“The issue’s been a multi-year issue,” she said. “We’ve been on corrective action with the Navy for several years now. They have heightened the recruitment efforts, got more involved with recruiting Linton (Middle School) students. The number, unfortunately, is in the low 30s. We have been in conversation with the Navy, and they are prepared to close the program out, but anything can happen.”
An influx of 70 cadets prior to the June 24 budget adoption would be necessary to keep the program in the district with federal funding.
Penn Hills’ preliminary 2019-20 budget already has a more than $8 million deficit and the maximum real estate tax increase allowed without a voter referendum.
The JROTC program is not a direct pipeline to military service. Instead, it focuses on discipline, leadership and citizenship. It’s also designed to develop communication skills as well as personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.
Junior Alexia Zappi, cadet commander, said it would be devastating if the district cut the program.
She said the program contributed to a boost of confidence and she enjoys interacting with her fellow cadets.
JROTC booster club President Roxanne Plater said she has hope the program could be saved, but recruiting efforts have been further hampered by projected teacher furloughs.
The district sent out 35 furlough letters to the teachers union a little more than three weeks ago as part of a financial recovery plan development. District officials have repeatedly said the cuts are not set in stone.
“At this point, because that rumor is out, people are not signing up because they think the program is done,” Plater said. “That is making a sad situation worse. Even if there’s less than 50 (cadets), isn’t the program worth saving? All that it involves, and as passionate as these cadets are, it’s worth saving.”
School Board President Erin Vecchio vowed to help keep the program, provided more students sign up.
“If you can show me where you guys can get the numbers up and make sure they stay up, I will go to anybody I have to to support that,” Vecchio said. “I appreciate everything that you’re trying to do.”
A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for the JROTC program.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .