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PIAA Legislative Oversight Committee to hold hearing on boundary vs. non-boundary debate Wednesday

October 2, 2018

State legislators are bringing the boundary vs. non-boundary debate to Western Pennsylvania.

The PIAA Legislative Oversight Committee will hear testimony Wednesday at Heinz Field from public school administrators who are demanding separate PIAA playoffs for private, parochial and charter schools.

The public hearing is 10 a.m. at the PNC Champions Club.

Scheduled to testify are Laurel superintendent Leonard Rich, Millcreek superintendent Bill Hall and Harmony superintendent Stuart Albaugh. The trio helped organize the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit in July that attracted public school administrators from across the state.

This hearing comes three months after the oversight committee heard boundary/non-boundary testimony in June from PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi, as well as Catholic and charter school representatives, who opposed separate playoffs.

“Obviously, Dr. Lombardi and the Catholic schools had their say. Now it’s our turn,” said Rich, who’s also a member of the WPIAL Board of Directors. “The bottom line is we want to bring to the PIAA Oversight Committee why we feel that there is a lack of fairness and a lack of equity. I know this is in the realm of athletics, but this is so far beyond an athletics issue. This is a fairness to students issue, this is an equity issue and we want to bring that point home to the oversight committee.”

Lincoln Park athletic director Mike Bariski, who testified in June, is scheduled to testify again Wednesday. Bariski represents the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) chairs the oversight committee, a group that includes state Reps. Mike Reese (D-Westmoreland) and Rob Matzie (D-Beaver), and state Sens. Jay Costa (R-Allegheny) and Scott Martin (R-Lancaster).

A key point in the debate is whether the PIAA has the legal authority to create separate playoff systems for so-called boundary and non-boundary schools. Lombardi says the PIAA cannot, and has pointed to legislation from 1972 that made private schools full members of the PIAA.

“In our opinion, the quickest road would be that the PIAA acknowledge that they have the power of governance, not just membership ... and that they can create a separate playoff,” Rich said.

The public school administrators want legislators to clearly define the PIAA’s authority, Rich said. If that doesn’t achieve the results they want, the next request from public schools would be legislation forcing the PIAA to create separate playoffs, he said.

“We need to bring (the oversight committee) to the understanding that if the PIAA itself fails to act -- and that they’re standing on Act 219 of 1972 -- then it may be in the legislature’s hands,” Rich said.

Organizers of the PIAA Playoff Equity Summit reached out to both the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Rich said, asking each to provide a legal opinion on the 1972 legislation.

Neither has responded, he said.

“We have submitted requests to both organizations and to my knowledge, not only has neither organization given an opinion, but neither organization has said whether they will render an opinion in one way or another,” Rich said. “I think their silence speaks volumes. I don’t think they want any part of this either way.”

Rich said the oversight committee previously urged school administrators to give the PIAA time to act. The PIAA took action this summer and passed stricter transfer rules, among other changes aimed at addressing transfer issues.

But Rich called the actions inadequate.

“Quite frankly, that’s tone-deaf to the membership,” Rich said. “The changes that (the PIAA made) did not address the No. 1 issue. I do agree that transfers are part of this overall conversation, but transfers are such a small part in the big issue of competition between boundary and non-boundary schools.”

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