by Ron Gregory
LOGAN — Saving the Junior ROTC program at Chapmanville Regional High School apparently includes the anticipated resignation of State Senator Richard Ojeda from the program. Ojeda has been listed as a “commissioned instructor” for the program, receiving $58,054.49 in annual salary.
Confusion regarding the program came following a Thursday, March 23, meeting of the Board of Education at their offices. Previous discussion and media reports had indicated that the Junior ROTC program was in jeopardy at CRHS due to severe budget cuts in the school system. Similar programs at Man and Logan high schools were also said to be on the chopping block.
Explanations given by School Board President Paul Hardesty Thursday night included the fact that the school system will eliminate 70 teaching positions for next year. Some of these reductions are in fields that are required for graduation. Junior ROTC, as pointed out by Hardesty, is an elective program. Slightly more than 400 students participate in these programs countywide.
While considering the coming fiscal year’s budget, which begins July 1, the Board had looked at various scenarios, Hardesty said Thursday. He said even combining the program at the vocational-technical school would not work due to the logistics of students getting back and forth to their home high schools to attend required courses.
After presenting a gloomy picture Thursday night, during which various Junior ROTC representatives said Ojeda is willing to resign his position to save the program, most left the meeting with the impression that the program was finished.
The next morning, Friday however, Hardesty announced that a $50,000 donation had been pledged to keep the program going at CRHS. At that time, he said the Man and Logan units could not be maintained and cited letters from the Army saying so.
Hardesty appeared on a Friday statewide talk show to announce the $50,000 gift from Alpha Natural Resources. Later in the day, a School Board press release confirmed the donation and said the CRHS program would be saved.
Questions immediately arose, including some debate between Board members on social media, about the plans. Some alleged that acceptance of a $50,000 gift from a private company, essentially matching Senator/Major Ojeda’s salary would be improper. One statehouse observer asked a reporter if he (the reporter) thought the mining company was “buying a state senator” with their donation.
As has been his consistent policy, Ojeda has refused to answer inquiries about his role in the program. However, School officials said Tuesday that “Major Ojeda understands and knows he has to step down to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The CRHS program has operated with Ojeda and a second instructor, whose salary is listed at $36,816. The instructor at Man receives $49,304 and the one at Logan draw $42,419.
The Board of Education has not formally voted on cutting the program but it would a part of their budget approval process in early April. Hardesty had personally pledged $10,000 to the CRHS program and said Tuesday he still hopes others will step forward to try to save the programs at Logan and Man.