Christian Brothers Academy officials on Wednesday defended their decision to make the junior ROTC program optional this fall, a move some parents said would harm the program.
About 100 people attended a State of the School meeting held in the Ned McGraw Gymnasium.
CBA officials have said that making the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program voluntary would spur interest from parents whose children aren’t interested in the military component at the all-boys school for grades 6-12.
Principal James Schlegel said the school, which was founded in 1859, is on more solid footing now than it was a few years ago. Enrollment stands at 381 — 50 students higher than it was two years ago.
As of January, 60 students have applied for admission, compared with 30 at this point last year. Also, 24 students have enrolled during the year, and 20 of those came since the school’s mid-October announcement that the military component would no longer be mandatory, according to Schlegel.
The school is fully behind the JROTC program, Schlegel said.
“We believe that the JROTC will be stronger because the students who choose to participate will be fully dedicated,” he said.
Some alumni disagreed, saying it diminishes what makes CBA special.
Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Scaringe said nearly all schools are facing shrinking enrollment just because of demographics. There are fewer high school-aged children than there were six years ago. For example, he said LaSalle Institute, another grade 6-12 boys school that CBA had considered merging with in 2009, say its enrollment decline from 610 in 2005 to 400 in 2009.
While enrollment was declining, Scaringe said the economy was tanking, as well. CBA was forced to dip more into its savings to cover its roughly $4.3 million annual operating budget.
The finances have since stabilized, but Scaringe said the school needs to continue to grow so it can build up a surplus to allow it to upgrade classrooms and expand class offerings.
Trustee Carm Basile said he acknowledged that change is hard, but it is necessary.
“If we didn’t change, honestly, I’m not sure we would all be here right now. The doors were that close to being closed,” he said.
Some recent alumni expressed concern about the change, saying that students would elect not to participate if JROTC were voluntary, which would in effect create two schools — one with a military component and one without. Paul Amodeo of Bethlehem, a 2008 graduate, pointed out that LaSalle is keeping its JROTC program.
“If I was a prospective student looking to go to a military school, I wouldn’t go to a school with an optional JROTC program, I would go to the military school,” he said.
Shane McMahon of Clifton Park, also a CBA graduate, said he is concerned that the school’s academics are not up to par, particularly in trigonometry and chemistry. Schlegel disputed that the school was not sufficiently preparing its students, however.
“We’ll put our scores up against any school in the area,” he said. “The data will show that our students outperform any public school in the area. The Regents scores will show that.”
Other parents like Kristin Vivian of Slingerlands understand that the school has to adapt to the future and said CBA is more than just the military component.
“We didn’t enroll our boys because it was a military school. We enrolled them because it was a faith-based education,” he said.
Scaringe said the school had to make a hard choice to survive.
“Do we want to do it? No. That’s the only way we see the path to financial stability,” he said.