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Senate Exempts JROTC Instructors from Pay Cut

With the U.S. government threatening to shut down the territory’s JROTC program if pay cuts are not rescinded, the V.I. Legislature voted Thursday to exempt high school JROTC instructors from across-the-board 8 percent government salary reductions enacted to respond to a fiscal meltdown last year.

The measure was special-ordered onto the agenda at the request of Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen.

In April, the Rules and Judiciary Committee held a similar bill from Hansen, pending clarification from the federal government as to whether locally hired and paid JROTC instructors’ salaries can be cut and how the minimum allowable salary is computed.

Since then, James E. Knauff Jr., JROTC chief based at the U.S. Army Cadet Command in Savannah, Ga., wrote a letter to Hansen and subsequently told the Source directly that the Department of Defense contract for JROTC instructors calls for 50 percent pay by the federal government and 50 percent pay by the local government and ties their pay level to their military pay at retirement.

Knauff said unless the territory rescinds the reductions it will lose the Junior ROTC programs at St. Croix Educational Complex, St. Croix Central High School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas.

Senate President Ronald Russell said Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen arranged a teleconferenced meeting with U.S. Defense Department officials who confirmed the program would be terminated if the local government did not rescind the cuts for a handful of JROTC instructors.

Russell said he told those officials making an exception on the across-the-board cuts may open a legal can of worms and asked them to reconsider.

"The Department of Defense was not interested in making the sacrifice,” Russell said, adding that they were adamant – that if the Senate cuts the salary, they will end the program. “So we don’t really have a choice," Russell said.

The cost of restoring pay will be roughly $77,000, according to testimony by Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb.

Voting yea on the bill rescinding pay cuts were Hansen, Russell, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis Hill, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Sprauve, Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young. Sen. Usie Richards voted nay. Sen. Celestino White was absent.

Several times during Thursday’s session, Richards emphasized that he supported the JROTC program and restoring pay levels, if necessary, but voted no in protest of the measure being brought to individual legislators by individual JROTC officials, outside the normal military chain of command.

After the vote, Christensen issued a statement praising the passage of the measure and urging Gov. John deJongh Jr. to sign it into law.

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