Tom Tolen /

The Brighton Board of Education this week voted 7-0 to pass a resolution approving establishment of a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program as part of the Brighton Area Schools’ overall course offerings beginning next fall.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners gave establishment of the program a big boost Monday when commissioners voted unanimously to provide $150,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the Brighton Area Schools to jump-start the program. According to Board of Commissioners Chairman David Domas, the funds will be spread out over 2-3 years.

ARPA is a federal economic stimulus program to aid public health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the act, the funds can be used for essential employees, investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Under the act, passed in 2021, the federal government provided Michigan with $6.5 billion in flexible state fiscal recovery funds to support programs and policies that promote social and economic recovery from the pandemic. Livingston County has received $37.3 million of that amount for local programs. Schools, along with hospitals, foster homes, small businesses, disadvantaged communities and other entities are eligible for funding under the program.

Domas tells WHMI that, to his knowledge, it’s the first time in history that the county board has approved funding for a public school. Domas said, “It was a worthy cause and and met the criteria, and is more than appropriate in teaching discipline and patriotism....and it builds character.”

The board spent over an hour-and-a-half debating whether to give the program its blessing, discussing various aspects, such as whether to go with the program run by the Air Force or Navy and whether to require a minimum number of students in the program in order to operate it. It was finally decided that since Howell High School has its own highly successful Air Force program, it would be best to go with the Navy program.

Early on in the discussion, Board Trustee Andy Storm asked pointedly why Treasurer John Conely was left out of the resolution process, since he has been advocating for a JROTC program for several years. Board President Roger Myers responded that the resolution is in a very rudimentary form and will be fine-tuned in the coming days. Conely himself, who has visited both the Belleville (Navy) JROTC and Jackson (Army) JROTC programs, tells WHMI he is not upset that he was not asked to help draft the resolution. Conely said, in his words, “I understand there are processes that need to be followed, and (what’s important is) at the end of the day, we were able to help the students of the Brighton Area Schools."

Once the Navy is assured that the Brighton program is viable - with a minimum of 100 students - it will provide uniforms, textbooks, training aids, travel allowance and a substantial portion of instructors’ salaries. In the meantime, the school district can run the program devoid of any local costs via an offer by Belleville and the county board’s approval of the $150,000 grant. Belleville High School won an award last year for having the top Navy JROTC program in a 10-state region, and has offered to provide uniforms and equipment for the Brighton program. Myers supported the Navy program, saying, quote, “With the Navy program there is no risk to us for two years, and no out-of-pocket costs to us with the county support."

Conely says the Navy is expected to give formal approval to Brighton's program in December or January, and students should be able to sign up for the program sometime in February after the Course Selection Guide is presented. Initially, the program will not be called a JROTC program, but rather a Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) program, which uses the same curriculum as the NJROTC program.