After listening to the impassioned pleas of parents and a coach, the Panther Valley school board sent back to committee Thursday a proposal to change the middle school cheerleading coach position from a paid to a volunteer job.
The program has three coaches Hallie Seiwell, her sister Heidi Seiwell and volunteer Amber Vachon. In July, the board agreed to pay Hallie Seiwell $1,650 a season and Heidi Seiwell $750 a season.
The proposal on Thursday's agenda was to change the as-yet open middle school cheerleading coach position from paid to volunteer. Seiwell and others involved in cheerleading oppose that change.
The board also agreed, with school directors David Hiles and Richard Zabroski opposed, to have a letter of reprimand placed in Hallie Seiwell's file in response to the tone of a letter she sent to board members on the matter.
Zabroski said that people in the "heat of passion" sometimes say things they don't really mean, and asked the board to take that into consideration.
School director Bill Hunsicker called the letter "disrespectful and arrogant." He initially called for Seiwell to be suspended or to resign.
School director Anthony DeMarco said Seiwell called Superintendent Rosemary Porembo a bully in the letter, and school director Koreen Nalesnik said the letter included the threat of a lawsuit alleging violations of the federal Title IX, which requires equal treatment for boys and girls participating in sports. Nalesnik said the letter "soured" her on Seiwell.
At the request of Hunsicker, school directors Roy Angst, Irene Genther, Jeff Markovich, and Zabroski voted to table the matter of changing the coaching position to a volunteer one, sending it back to committee. Hiles, Anthony DeMarco, Michelle Markovich and Nalesnik opposed.
The board may raise the matter again when it meets on Sept. 13.
Seiwell, who has coached cheerleading for 13 years, spoke to the board, saying she is paid less than the equipment manager.
"I was extremely upset and disappointed that ... that things still are, in my opinion, still inequitable," she said.
Seiwell said cheerleading is considered a sport, not just an athletic activity, and is entitled to equitable funding and salaries under Title IX.
"My salary and budget concerns are a matter of the law, nothing more and nothing less," she said.
Seiwell said cheerleaders have been competing since 1995.
"For the last 12 years, we've been very successful, especially the last few years, including a regional championship, a national championship, a grand championship, several AA and Schuylkill League championships at the District 11 Athletic Directors' cheerleading championships, and other local and regional titles," she said.
Seiwell said the school district has three coaches for the program's 44 participants.
"To cut or cap the program as an attempt to have fewer coaches would be in direct violation of Title IX," she said.
Business manager Kenneth Marx said the program currently costs the district $11,000 a year.
Several people spoke in support of the program and its coaches, whom some board members referred to as "advisers."
Nalesnik pointed out that the district needs to keep costs in line, and that it has already cut swimming, cross country and golf.
Hiles added that the swimming program had lead to five full scholarships for students, and that cutting programs was hard for the board to do. He also said Seiwell was never directed by the board to "grow" the cheerleading program to where it is today.
"We have financial constraints," he said.
Hiles also said football, basketball and wrestling bring money into the school district, and so are considered partially self-funded.
Porembo said she supports the program, and wants to work with the coaches. But, she said, money is limited. She invited those who have suggestions on how to support the program to call her office at (570) 645-4848.