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Hermantown School Board reverses course on cheerleading cuts

Hermantown High School cheerleader Courtney Martin (center) — holding hands with teammates Megan Gries (left) and Lexie Pohl — breaks into a smile after Hermantown School Board members voted to restore funding for the cheer program at Monday’s board meeting. (Steve Kuchera / / 2
Chad William Scott, father of a Hermantown cheerleader, questions School Board members about the process leading to the decision that removed funding from the cheerleading program during Monday’s board meeting. Scott was among the overflow crowd attending the meeting, during which the board voted 4-2 to restore funding to the cheer team. (Steve Kuchera / / 2

Two weeks after eliminating funding for cheerleading — a move that led to community outcry and surprise — the Hermantown School Board voted to reinstate money for the program Monday night.

A crowd of often emotional supporters packing the small boardroom lined the wall and sat on the floor to both hear the board and speak about the activity.

Cheerleading is the second-oldest activity at the high school, said Misha Alaspa, the program’s adviser and the district’s social worker, who is resigning this year from the advising post.

She addressed two criticisms of the program by pointing out that participation has grown in recent years, not declined; and her students are well-supervised by either her or an assistant.

“The cheerleaders this year have not only met my expectations, they have exceeded them over and over again,” she said.

Board member Laura Thorsvik made a motion at the start of Monday’s regular board meeting to reinstate the program with full funding. The board later voted 4-2 to reinstate the money, after earlier this month approving the elimination of $2,500 for the program as part of a larger budget reduction package. More than $260,000 was cut from the district’s budget for next year, including two elementary teacher positions.

Chad William Scott expressed frustration at the lack of communication with the cheerleading teams before the vote and with the confusion shared by some board members about the decision they made.

“(Some) members claim they didn’t understand what they were voting for,” said Scott, the parent of a cheerleader. “What are we losing by eliminating this program? Everything seems so unclear … Transparency should be the focus at all times.”

Thorsvik said the board trusts the district and school leadership and voted two weeks ago with the information presented at that time.

“As a community, we have all learned you have the support behind you for this program,” she said to the students. “As a board, I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’ve learned to question some of that trust and I need to really make sure these decisions I am going to be a part of are those I know I have been fully informed on and I will owe that to you. We will fix this process.”

While the channels of communication need improving, said Chairman Greg Carlson, he doesn’t see the board’s process as “flawed.” Each board member knew the vote was to eliminate funding, he said, noting he’s concerned about the precedent being set by reversing the decision on an extracurricular program.

“It’s OK to cut classrooms; just don’t cut extracurriculars,” he said, of the perceived precedent. “All we have to do is fill up the boardroom and they’ll get reinstated.”

Member Deanna Gronseth said activities director and dean of students Beth Clark had been treated unfairly after the cheerleading decision, because her department had made the recommendation to cut funding.

“The only people responsible for cheerleading being cut are the six people up here,” she said.

Clark, after the meeting, said she would have asked the board to reinstate the program had it not already done so based on the support it has and the feedback she has received.

“I don’t want to cut anything,” she said. “The more programs we can have, the more it will benefit kids.”

She said it was her first time involved in making reductions from activities. She, along with an administrative team, put together a list of possible activities to cut. One main reason cheerleading was chosen, she said, is because the adviser was resigning, so there would be no loss of future pay to an employee.

“We will take responsibility on the communication piece,” she said, along with not having a plan in place for possible alternative funding sources. “My approach next time would be different.”

Hermantown’s self-funded programs include a dance team and alpine and Nordic skiing.

Cheerleaders worked to raise more than $1,000 in efforts to pay for the program, and also began an online petition and a physical petition at school. Together they garnered about 1,300 signatures.

Senior cheerleader Taylor Grimsbo said she thinks the decision came so quickly because of the large number of supporters for the students.

The students put in a lot of work in the last couple of weeks to save their program, said junior Courtney Martin.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life knowing I get to cheer another year,” she said.