Leveling the playing field

Public school reps want PIAA to implement separate playoffs for public and private schools

Representatives from more than 150 public schools attended the PIAA Equity Summit Tuesday in State College, and they sent a strong message to the PIAA board of directors.

They want separate playoffs for public/boundary and private/non-boundary schools, and they’re not going to wait much longer to get it.

“I don’t think there’s a solution that exists that puts non-boundary schools in with boundary schools,” Laurel School District superintendent Len Rich said, according to Mike Drago of the Reading Eagle. “We have a confined area to pick our students, and we need to compete (only) against other (like) school districts (for state championships).”

The push comes following a run where private and charter schools have won 56.3 percent of state football titles (9 of 16) and 75 percent of the boys basketball championships (12 of 16) in the last three years. Since 2008 those numbers are 50 percent and 63.6 percent, respectively, according to the PIAA.

The overwhelming majority of those who responded to a survey prior to the meeting agreed that private and charter schools have an edge. The three question survey garnered 207 responses with 99 percent answering “yes” they believe “schools of choice” have a competitive edge over traditional public schools, 93 percent favoring separate playoffs and 72 percent believing the recent rule changes made by the PIAA will be less effective than separate playoffs in leveling the playing field.

In an effort to address the issue, the PIAA approved stringent new transfer rules and created a competitive balance formula during its meeting last week. One transfer rule states that students who transfer following their freshman year must sit out postseason play, in any sport in which they competed that year, for one calendar year. A second rule puts eligibility limits on in-season transfers. The formula applies a point system to each level of PIAA playoffs for football and basketball and counts total transfer athletes. Any team accumulating six or more points and reaching a transfer threshold (six for football, three for basketball) in a 2-year cycle, will automatically be bumped up a classification in the next cycle.

According to Drago, Rich felt those moves didn’t address the real issue.

“Transfer rules are part of this conversation,” Rich said, “but transfers are a secondary issue. (Let’s face it), the level of enforcement is, at best, inconsistent.”

Private and charter school groups were invited to speak before the state legislature’s PIAA oversight committee last month. That no public schools were afforded the same opportunity added fuel to the fire on the hot button issue.

“We don’t believe our voices have been heard,” said Bill Hall, Millcreek Township superintendent, according to the Eagle. “We feel the door’s being slammed on us.”

The PIAA issued a statement in response to the Equity Summit.

“The PIAA Board of Directors is made up of 32 diverse, elected representatives of all member schools and other constituencies, and represent each of the stakeholders present at today’s meeting in State College,” the statement read. “It is grassroots representational democracy that has been effective for more than 100 years. Much of the information included in today’s presentations has been discussed by the Board, of which the overwhelming majority are public school employees. The Board anticipates that issues pertaining to eligibility and competitive equity will be forwarded to the Board through the proper channels, at which point they will be addressed. Open dialogue among all stakeholders will continue to be a strength of PIAA.”

That statement won’t likely sit well with many of those public school representatives.

“The system that exists now is broken,” John Sarandrea, New Castle School District superintendent, said during the meeting. “To deny this is an insult to every citizen in the Commonwealth.”