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All cheered out: Budget cuts mean no more cheerleading at HHS

When budgets get squeezed, it's inevitable that programs are lost. That's exactly the case in the Hastings school district this year. Bundled in with a number of staff reductions across the district are the elimination of two high school extracurricular programs: cheerleading and the math team.

The cuts are a result of reduced school funding due to declining enrollment. The state pays schools a certain amount per pupil, and fewer students means fewer dollars.

"That's been taking place over the last eight to 10 years now," said superintendent Tim Collins.

Hastings' reaction was to make about $850,000 in budget cuts this year, as well as spending down about $1 million from the school's fund balance.

The school board decided to cut the cheerleading team for two reasons. The first, Collins said, was because of how difficult it's been to get an advisor for the team who has the experience, knowledge and background to lead it. Hastings had a cheerleading team this past fall, but the program had to be cancelled for the winter because the advisor moved away, and no replacement could be found.

Another factor was enrollment. While younger students have been involved with the team, older students have generally chosen other activities. The trend lately has been that the varsity cheerleading team was filled with more seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Lack of enrollment was the same deciding factor in eliminating the math team. There just haven't been enough students participating. But that isn't necessarily a reflection on the merit of the math program.

"Part of that is, quite honestly, due to the success of our other programs," Collins said.

Programs like show choir, marching band and varsity sports, for example, occupy much of students' time. Lack of participation in the math team, Collins said, is a reflection that students are stretched with other activities.

Collins doesn't expect the budget situation to get any better any time soon. Even if the state could increase per-pupil funding, rising costs in other areas would quickly absorb the increase. For the next few years, at least, budget cuts will likely be a given.

"We're looking at continuing to make cuts over the next three years and spend down the fund balance we've built up," he said.