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Legislature may oversee GHSA in wake of public-private rift
Friday, 27 January 2012

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia High School Association is getting another lesson in politics after it decided this month to hold separate state championships for small public and private schools.

Legislators with enough clout to make things happen in the General Assembly filed a bill this week to form a 12-member board of state House and Senate members to oversee the private high school association.

The committee, similar to one that operated from 2008-10, would not have decision-making power over the GHSA, but could do what the Legislature made possible in 2006 when a similar situation arose, threaten school funding for high schools that don’t go along with their wishes.

“The Legislature should not be handling this, but if you have public-school participation in a private organization, I do think there should be some type of oversight,” said Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, a supporter of the bill.

The controversy began to boil late last year when more than 30 public schools in Class A — made up of schools with less than about 600 students — planned to leave the GHSA and form their own league. The GHSA responded by moving to hold separate state championships for public and private Class A schools beginning this fall. Public and private schools will continue to compete against each other in the regular season.

“The GHSA has tremendous impact on our kids and may be something that we ought to keep our eye on,’’ said Rep. Allen Peake, the Macon Republican who sponsored House Bill 809. “For instance, my kids go to a private school in Macon that just moved to the GHSA. The whole purpose was to give experience to the kids of good competition as well as real-world experience.”

Now, the GHSA is taking part of that away by saying it is OK to play during the regular season, but not during the playoffs, Peake said.

Roberts, whose district high school is Irwin County of Class A, understands the public-school concerns. Private high schools in urban areas can accept students from a large population area. Irwin County, a Class A public school, has a population of only about 10,000. That gives private high schools an advantage, Roberts said.

But Roberts was frustrated that he worked on a joint committee that suggested other solutions that the GHSA declined to adopt.

The bill gives the General Assembly the power to request documents and the attendance of people for questioning in relation to athletics. It says high schools that get state money must comply with the proposed law and that associations that govern those schools must participate.

Roberts helped pass a similar law in 2006 that restored the eligibility of football player Justin Anderson of Irwin County, whom the GHSA declared ineligible for playing in a national all-star game that the GHSA didn’t sanction.

The bill would have taken away state education money from schools that did not allow players to play in NCAA-approved bowl games.

It’s no secret that the GHSA would prefer not to have the legislature looking over its shoulder.

“I don’t know that I particularly like it,’’ GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said of the House bill, “but we’re trying to be open about what we do. If it will help us communicate, it’s probably a good thing.’’

The bill will have to move through a committee then to the floor of the House for a vote. If passed, the Senate would also have to approve the bill, and then Gov. Nathan Deal could sign it into law.


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