Balancing the Budget

District discusses discontinuing the Lawrence gymnastics program.


Photo by Baya Burgess

Photo by Baya Burgess

Following a week of sound and fury over an announcement to cut the gymnastics program, no one has signed up to address the USD 497 Board of Education at their meeting tonight according to executive director of communication Julie Boyle as of 2 p.m. The district cites budgetary issues as a reason to cut the FireLions program.

On Dec. 2, head coach Kat Farrow attended a meeting with athletic director Amanda Faunce and director secondary schools Rick Henry. The meeting ended with a statement that implied the gymnastics program will be ending. 

The meeting was scheduled abruptly, leaving coaches baffled by the discussion. 

An email was sent out on Dec. 5 to parents and gymnasts by Boyle about the administration’s proposal to cut the program. 

“The administration has been giving this recommendation thoughtful consideration for several years,” Boyle said in the email. “Both the school and administration share concern about a lack of adequate space for the team.” 

Photo by Baya Burgess

Schools in the Sunflower League have been discussing the future of gymnastics in the state for the last decade, according to Boyle. Other costs Boyle cited include $32,000 in equipment, space and repair needs.

The $32,000 includes coaches’ payroll, travel fees, equipment needs and rental fees for Jayhawk Gymnastics, the team’s practice facility. 

Farrow disputed the $32,000 figure.

“We have all the equipment,” Farrow said. “We do not need any new stuff.” 

The owner of Jayhawk Gymnastics, Scott Belanger, said their equipment is new and “top of the line.” 

This accounts for $18,000-$20,000 of Boyle’s estimates. 

The district is currently facing a budget deficit between $2 million and $3.2 million  due to decreasing enrollment numbers during the pandemic.

In response to the budget shortfall, principal Myron Graber said the position the district is in is difficult.

“It’s unfortunate,” Graber said. “There’s going to be lots of programs that are going to be hit,”

Boyle, however, disagreed. 

Photo by Baya Burgess

In order for a program to be discontinued, it must first go through the district’s Budget and Program Evaluation Committee before being presented to the board according to board president Erica Hill. The BPEC was put in place to review district spending and to identify areas of potential cost-savings. This year is the first time BPEC assigned subcommittees to make specific recommendations for budget-savings. Today is the deadline for the subcommittees to make their first proposals.

 Outcries defending the program and the announcement the program is being cancelled are premature, according to Hill, because a formal proposal has not been made to the board. 

“It’s not an official recommendation,” Hill said. “The administration can make a recommendation to the board, but that official recommendation has not been made”

As news of the proposal spread through social media, students devised ways to fight the proposal. A protest in conjunction with Lawrence High School was held on Dec. 8. Approximately 400 students gathered at the Firebird, holding signs of support and chanting. 

“[The proposal] was like a punch in the gut,” senior gymnast and co-team captain Ashley Mai said. “They just didn’t give us a chance to fundraise, or come up with other options.”

With five state titles in the last 12 years, Mai thought the team’s success earned them a spot off of the budget cut chopping block, and felt the proposal was a shock because of the lack of forewarning.  

Mai’s words were echoed by senior Lexi Meskin, who attended the protest to support fellow members of the student body. 

“It’s really important to show solidarity with the gymnastics team,“ senior Lexi Meskin said. “We all know someone on the team and we a

Photo by Baya Burgess

ll care about the program.”  

Last week, coaches, family members and participants of the team gathered to plan to fight this proposal. 

At the meeting, the team decided to focus on alternative ways of handling district concerns. 

“I don’t want this to become sport versus sport,” Farrow said. “They want us to fight each other and I won’t do that.”

Instead, they plan on asking for a one year extension in order to raise funds for the team. 

Future decisions are expected from the budget committee. The deadline for proposals to be brought among the board is Dec. 15.