The Sioux Falls School District Board of Education tentatively approved next fiscal year’s $326 million budget Monday night, and that included cutting the gymnastics program, despite outcry from gymnasts, parents and coaches throughout the last month.
Three student gymnasts and five parents spoke Monday night, asking the board to consider keeping the sport within the district’s offerings, but the board voted unanimously on a budget that will eliminate it. After the vote, several girls in the audience cried and embraced each other.
Gymnastics was budgeted at $76,094. The sport had a headcount of 58 athletes last school year, according to the district’s count, making it the second-least competed-in sport for girls after wrestling (33 participants last year), and before the dance team (72 participants last year) and the tennis team (75 participants last year).
This budget will be brought forward for final adoption and certification of levies in the board’s July 10 meeting, but board members made their stances on the gymnastics issue clear Monday night, and they are unlikely to change their views by the next meeting.
The decision to cut gymnastics in Sioux Falls follows a similar decision made in Rapid City, and promises from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to “protect” womens’ and girls’ sports.
Board is ‘choosing the easy way out’
Anna Leuning, a junior at Lincoln High School, said gymnastics positively impacted her confidence. Removing the sport means there will be no source for girls to show up and bring their talents, strengths and personalities to the plate, she said.
Eva Knutson, a senior at Lincoln, said she sent board members an email detailing support for the program and the number of local competitors who want to compete not on the board’s terms.
Jackie Erickson, a Lincoln freshman, said people who are supposed to be running the school district with honesty and integrity are “choosing the easy way out and cutting a sport that means so much to me and all the other girls in it.”
Kandy Bauder, parent of Lincoln junior Jesalyn Bauder, said club gymnastics isn’t an option for her daughter and high school gymnastics in the district gave her many opportunities and helped her with tricks and flips in the marching band, and in pole vaulting.
Eric Van Beek, father of a seventh grader at Edison Middle School who participates in Lincoln’s varsity gymnastics team, said discussions with administrators on the issue weren’t a two-way conversation looking for multiple solutions to save the program.
More:More gymnastics supporters stand up against Sioux Falls School District plan to gut program
Pam Fox added onto Knutson’s comments, saying if this sport is cut, it makes it hard for student-athletes in multiple sports to continue competing in school sports if they have to move to gymnastics at clubs. Fox questioned what magic number of competitors the district wanted to keep the sport going.
Angi Allen, a parent of a 7-year-old who she hoped could one day compete in district gymnastics, said the lack of transparency on the process was “unsettling.”
“To force young women to come before the board to beg to participate in a sport that they love is appalling,” Allen said.
Amanda Nielsen, parent of a sixth grader in club sports looking forward to competing in high school like her siblings did, doesn’t want to have her daughter be told “no.”
‘We have to be responsible to the taxpayers’
Each year, the budget process gets trickier with balancing community needs, board vice president Carly Reiter said. Reiter said the board has listened to speakers, read emails from gymnastics supporters and exchanged phone calls and texts as well as met in-person with parents and others on the subject.
The board has taken questions on Title IX, participation numbers, transportation, equipment and more, Reiter said, but after reviewing participation numbers and national trends, she said the district can’t continue to budget these funds.
“I know that parents have said that the money can be raised, students can pay annual fees or fundraise a certain amount, but for me, for a public school, we need to be able to provide a program at a level that is fully funded, not relying on parents, students or private donors to keep it going,” Reiter said.
More:Students, coaches flip out about future of Sioux Falls School District’s gymnastics programs
Board member Cynthia Mickelson said it’s a hard decision for the board, and she appreciated the parents and students who spoke and was encouraged by them.
“I have really wanted to save this program, because we as a district need to offer as many opportunities as we can for our students,” Mickelson said. “For me, it was, ‘Can this be sustainable long-term?’”
Mickelson said she was reminded by Reiter that the financials for this program can’t come from parents, and pointed to recent additions of girls’ wrestling, softball and dance that are also open to students. She also pointed to the “financial Lollapalooza” of COVID-19 and a coming fiscal cliff impacting the decision.
Board president Kate Serenbetz assured the crowd assembled Monday night they’ve taken what they said into consideration and the board did its due diligence.
“These decisions are never easy,” Serenbetz said. “We’ve had to make tough ones in the past. We’ve had to close schools… It’s never an easy decision for us to sit here and cut a program, but we have to look at the big picture, and our big picture is that we are coming up to a fiscal cliff in the next few years, and we have to be responsible to the taxpayers of this community.”
Mickelson also implored parents and students to find other activities in the schools that will continue next year.
Bauder said after the vote the argument that the district has added other sports for girls in recent years is a “poor excuse.” Allen said after the vote she once thought highly of the district, but feels different now.