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Some parents cite RRMS cheer team finances

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Some parents of River Road Middle School cheerleaders have concerns about how the team was managed this year, and specifically how team funds would be used.

The parents’ concerns contrast with — and were made public in response to — glowing reviews the team’s adult leadership received from cheer team members and parents at the Feb. 26 meeting of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education.

In an interview March 10, Monique Turner, who said her daughter, Kenia Turner, was cheer captain earlier this year before she pulled her off the team, and two other parents, Chris and Amanda Wood, all expressed concerns about how costs associated with their daughters’ participation in the cheer program were communicated and what they claimed was a lack of clarity about how team finances were managed.

The RRMS cheer team was projected into the public spotlight in late January when a pair of local citizens addressed the board of education about concerns related to a photo showing the cheerleaders involved in a political activity at school. The photo was of the team wearing “McKecuen for Sheriff” sweatshirts that were obtained by team members in exchange for donations to Lt. Brent McKecuen’s campaign for sheriff in Pasquotank County. 

Katie Andersen, who coached the cheer squad at the school, resigned from her post after school officials determined she had violated the board of education policy regarding political activity by school employees.

At the school board’s Feb. 26 meeting, three members of the cheer team along with a parent and grandparent of team members asked that Andersen be reinstated as cheer coach. The speakers insisted the violation of board policy had been unintentional and asked that the coach be given a second chance.

But the Woods and Turner said they have reservations about how the team has been led this year. For instance, they said a contract they were handed at the beginning of the year was unclear. The contract, they said, stated in one place that the summer cheer camp last summer was to be held at the middle school but in another place had “N.C. State” listed next to the camp, which they said led them to believe the camp would be held in Raleigh.

The cost was listed as $389 both in the spot where it said “N.C. State” and also in the two locations that mentioned the camp would be operated in-house by staff from EDGE Cheer Camp.

Andersen referred questions about team finances to Jill Malo, an assistant coach. Malo said the cost for camp is approximately the same regardless of location.

“There is a cost per girl and a flat rate regardless,” Malo said. “Then you add choreography and music to that. They still have to send staff for the week. Only, in house it’s more of a private setting opposed to a large session with other teams from all around.”

The parents said they believe that in the future all funds for the cheer team and other extra-curricular activities should be managed through the school district’s finance office in order to ensure a maximum degree of fiscal control.

Tammy Sawyer, a spokeswoman for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, said all athletic moneys are collected by the coach and submitted to the school’s bookkeeper for balancing.

“Funds may be used directly related to the sport at the coaches’ discretion,” Sawyer said.

The school keeps a record of how much money is received and how it is spent, according to Sawyer.

Jill Malo, an assistant coach of the RRMS cheer team, said the bookkeeper approves all payments. “Nothing went out of that account without approval,” Malo said.

“I can assure you that any money that was turned in, a receipt was given and it was deposited by the bookkeeper, and any money that was disbursed was done so with approval,” Malo added. “I do not hold any checks or own the checking account. This is done through the school. I do not have access to these funds.”

The team has a lot of expenses, Malo said. “We pay for all our own stuff,” she said.

The EDGE Cheer Camp brought its own staff to Elizabeth City to lead the camp, Malo said. The team also had to pay extra for a choreography clinic and music, she said.

“We have a purchase order in for new mats, which we desperately need,” she said.

Malo said she is glad to explain any of these expenses to parents if they will call her.

Amanda Wood, the mother of RRMS cheerleader Jasie Whatley, said she never saw this problem with the handling of funds until this year.

Chris Wood, the husband of Amanda Wood, claimed that by his own calculations, that around $30,000 was collected this year between parent contributions and fundraising. Each team member was asked to pay more than $1,300. In addition, there were fundraising activities that the girls participated in, they said.

The Woods and Turner agreed that they could only account for how roughly half of the funds were spent.

“Where did all of the money go?” asked Amanda Wood.

“That’s what I want to know,” agreed Chris Wood.

Malo said all funds are used directly for the program. 

“At the end of the year, if there is money left over, we use that money that was raised to purchase items for the cheer program,” Malo said. “This year we have put in an order for three new mats.”

Chris Wood said he was told by school officials that the funds were handled by the team.

The parents said they understood that the barbecue fundraiser was to cover the cost of attending all away games. But they said the team only went to one away game, at First Flight, and the school itself paid for that trip.

Malo said the barbecue fundraiser is the major fundraiser of the year and the one mandatory fundraiser. She said parents were not told a specific purpose for which the barbecue proceeds would be used.

“Never, ever did we state that the barbecue fundraiser was for going to away games,” Malo said, adding “it covers an array of expenses.” 

She added, “I would be happy to go over this contract or expenses with anyone if they call me.”

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