Simplified: It was standing-room-only at the Sioux Falls School Board meeting Monday night as dozens of parents, students and coaches turned out to show support and plead their case for keeping the district's gymnastics program in the budget.
Why it matters
- The school board is expected to approve next year's budget by April 10, and with an annual cost of about $95,000, girls gymnastics is on the chopping block. Cutting the sport will also save up to an additional $300,000 in equipment costs, according to a statement from the Sioux Falls School District.
- The district says money is part of the decision, but equally important are participation rates. The number of students in gymnastics through the Sioux Falls School District has decreased steadily since a 2015 peak of 133 students. This year there are 44 girls participating in gymnastics through the schools.
- But Les Coin, head gymnastics coach for both Lincoln and Washington High School, contends that the decline in participation is partly due to the district's own design and a lack of transportation between schools to help kids get to practice. He also said the rest of the state is watching to see what Sioux Falls does with its gymnastics program.
"If we cut gymnastics in Sioux Falls, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the state cuts gymnastics as well," Coin said.
Why does the district want to cut the program?
Lack of participation is one of the biggest reasons cited in the district's statement to Sioux Falls Simplified.
- Other options for girls sports are seeing higher participation rates.
- For example, the board will consider approving funding for a girls’ wrestling coach after more than 60 girls participated in the sport this year, according to the statement.
There's also the cost factor. At $95,000 annually for the program, gymnastics costs more than $2,000 per kid participating this year.
- The district statement also noted a need for more equipment in the short-term with an additional price tag of up to $300,000.
And lastly, there aren't enough coaches.
"Two of the four head gymnastics coaching positions in the district were not filled this year due to a lack of applicants," the statement read. "Assistant coach positions were also not filled."
What do parents and students have to say?
The crowd at Monday's school board meeting was a passionate one. Students squished in to sit on the floor when all the chairs had filled, and after each speaker, the room erupted in applause.
Current and former coaches said the lack of participation isn't due to a lack of interest. Other barriers – largely transportation – are what's keeping kids out of the sport.
Parent Eric VanBeek said his daughter had been in club gymnastics, but found the district's program to have a more welcoming team culture.
"This is not hyperbole to say that this program is one of the best parts of my daughter's life," he said. "And it's truly heartbreaking to think it might come to an end."
Seventh-grader Sophie DeGroot told board members what it meant to her to be a part of the Lincoln High School gymnastics team.
"I don't know much about budgeting and how all of that stuff works," she said, "but I know there must be a better way to do this than taking a sport away from strong young women like us."
What happens next?
The school board is expected to have public work sessions to discuss the budget this week and next before moving to full adoption of the budget on April 10.