Falmouth considers support for cheerleaders

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FALMOUTH — The School Board spent a good chunk of its nearly 2 1/2-hour workshop Monday in continuing discussion about the Pay to Participate program.

It also referred a proposal for a sanctioned high school cheerleading squad to its finance committee.

The proposal, similar to one last year in the middle school, seeks to hire a head coach and establish a sanctioned team, rather than the existing club, to cheer at football games. They would not be competitive, but would participate in Maine Principals Association events.

The proposal will return to the board at its budget roll-out meeting on March 13.

Dan O’Shea, the School Department finance director, said if the activity is sanctioned the school would be in charge of hiring the coach and would outline standards similar to other sports and activities. The squad would be partially funded by the football team.

Sanctioned activities fall under the School Department’s control, but do not receive funding; sponsored activities receive funding. If the district sponsors cheerleading, O’Shea said, the first year would cost about $13,000, which would include equipment, uniforms and coaching.

He said that did not include transportation costs, likely because if the team went to away games they would travel with the football team. Transportation policies would be under the auspices of the district in either case.

While the team only wishes to cheer at football games, high school Principal Gregg Palmer said if the program comes under school control it would likely be spread to other sports as well.

Board Chairman Andrew Kinley expressed distaste for sanctioning in general, as opposed to sponsoring. He said “it leaves a bad taste” when the schools pay for some activities, but not others.

Other board members expressed similar opinions.

“We’re either in or out,” member Josh Barrett said.

Sanctioning has been a gateway to sponsoring, as was the case with volleyball. The sport started off as sanctioned, but popularity and participation grew until it became fully sponsored.

Referring the cheerleading proposal to the finance committee “is in no way an implication we will or won’t OK it,” Kinley said. “We’re just framing the conversation.”

Pay to Participate

Students now pay $175 to participate per sport in the high school, and $100 in middle school, with track and cross country at reduced rates. Kinley said the district does not pay for all the core costs of the sports, which tend to fall to booster clubs.

Taking on the core costs would add anywhere between $25,000 to $30,000 to the budget, he said, while athletics brings in $150,000 in revenue each year.

Additionally, for non-athletic activities there is a one time flat fee of $25, which Kinley said goes to an “all-you-can-eat” selection of activities.

Kinley said he sees four avenues the board can take: Maintain the status quo, reduce athletic fees to some undetermined annual flat fee, charge all activities the same annual flat fee, or eliminate fees all together.

“That’s $150,000 that needs to be made up,” Kinley said, if fees are eliminated.

Kinley said he “hates” participation fees, but is a realist on the matter because sports and activities can become political bargaining chips at budget time.

When asked what would happen if the district took on the costs of all activities, Kinley said it was something that hasn’t been considered.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.