With a small stack of books resting under his elbows, Gene Doremus looks like a typical high school teacher. But there's one noticeable difference the silver oak leaf insignias on the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel's epaulets.


Like his fellow math, history and science teachers, Lt. Col. Doremus focuses on the academic side of his subject, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. In fact, Lt. Col. Doremus is a certified senior areospace instructor who is passionate about sharing his fascination with all types of aircraft, from the Wright brothers' first plane to modern-day jets.


"I really do love the job," he said. "The kids and I absolutely love the curriculum. It's the curriculum I love teaching.... There's just not enough good things to be said about the Air Force JROTC unit."


But while the typical Hesperia High teacher instructs about 150 students per day, Lt. Col. Doremus and his assistant instructor have a program of about 80. And that relatively low teacher-to-student ratio puts Hesperia High's JROTC, the oldest JROTC unit in the Victor Valley, in the district's budgetary cross hairs.


"I think it's a wonderful program," said school board member Robert Kirk, whose two adult sons were previously enrolled in the school's JROTC unit. "I'd hate to see it close at Hesperia High."


Currently the board, the district's superintendent, his budget advisory group and others are scrutinizing teacher and classified staffing to see what teachers or complete programs, like Hesperia's JROTC, might be cut. But it's the district's school principals who could have the biggest input.


"They decide where those reductions are going to be," Kirk said. "It's site-based. They know where they can make adjustments better than someone else."


The district is expected to address the layoff situation at the next board meeting Monday night.


Superintendent Mark McKinney is hoping that negotiations with the district's employee unions will lead to win-win concessions.


"My goal is that we can negotiate concessions with all employee groups," McKinney said, but added, "The well is only so deep. I can't keep going to employees and saying, 'I want more and more.'"


Meanwhile students like Marshall Saunders, a cadet with the Hesperia High JROTC program, are keeping their fingers crossed.


"ROTC is like a family. It's way different than other classes," said Saunders, a lieutenant colonel in the program. "In English class I'm quiet. In ROTC I can't shut up."