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Move to can Hermantown cheerleading draws boos

Hermantown cheerleaders perform a routine at the Minnesota boys’ high school hockey tournament earlier this year. The school district has cut its cheerleading program as part of overall budget reductions for next year. (Photo courtesy of Angie Grimsbo)

Some Hermantown cheerleaders and their supporters were surprised by the elimination of the district’s cheer program last week, and one School Board member said he was “blindsided” by the proposal.

The board voted to eliminate funding for the program as part of more than $250,000 in recommended budget cuts and investments for next year.

“I don’t understand where this is coming from,” said senior Taylor Grimsbo, a football and hockey cheerleader and team captain. “Cheerleading is as important to a school community as any other sport. …We do a lot for the teams and the school.”

The program elimination saved the district about $2,500. Superintendent Brad Johnson said it wasn’t seen as a costly item. The recommendation came from activities director Beth Clark, who was “adamant” about the decision, he said, because of the amount of supervision required of the students. Clark did not return calls Monday.

Johnson noted also that the cheerleading adviser was resigning at the end of the year.

The adviser has resigned, but an assistant was ready to step into the role, Grimsbo said.

Board Vice Chairman Leo Plewa said some board members didn’t like the idea of eliminating the program, as opposed to just cutting financial support. He was surprised about the proposal, first hearing about it the day of the vote, he said.

“The School Board doesn’t like to micromanage,” Plewa said. “We expect support personnel we hire to do their jobs.”

He said he would support reinstating the cheerleading program if the students were able to self-fund it, but he said they should be properly supervised.

About 15 students cheer on football, basketball and hockey squads; some students cheer on more than one. Hermantown parent Tracy Lundeen said raising money to keep the squads in operation wouldn’t be an issue, noting booster clubs keep similar organizations alive at schools all over the area. If school administration thought money was an issue, officials should have gone to parents to ask them to come up with alternatives, he said.

“My opinion is there is some other issue,” Lundeen said.

Grimsbo said students are already talking about finding sponsors and raising money. Johnson said it was up to Clark to recommend reinstating the cheerleading program to the board.

Board member Deanna Gronseth said administration was seeking fairness in its choice of reductions throughout the district and cheerleading was the athletic department choice. She suggested that those wishing to reinstate cheerleading should start a petition and come to the Monday board meeting to talk about the strengths of the program.

“We need to hear that kind of information before we can make a decision,” she said, noting the board could reconsider if it hears from enough people.

The district had a total $500,000 deficit in its $14 million operating budget. It will find another $250,000 in savings next year. The board chose not to buy a $100,000 school bus it was on track to purchase this year and eliminated one section each from first and second grades, capitalizing on retirements instead of layoffs. Student activity fee rates were increased by $10.

Declining enrollment and increased costs to the district led to the largest amount of cuts the board has had to make in the nine years Johnson has been superintendent, he said. He said he hopes improved schools via new construction and renovations will bring students back to the district.

The board also approved a construction management firm — at a cost of about $1.3 million — for its long-range facilities plan. It picked Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., a Twin Cities-based firm with a Duluth location. An architectural firm was chosen this winter.