In issue of separating public, private schools, PIAA wants time

Friday, April 19, 2019 | 6:07 PM

The PIAA administration is watching closely as a state legislator wades into the public vs. private debate, but it would rather see its own competitive-balance efforts given time to work.

“If you asked us as a staff, we don’t have any interest in segregating the membership,” PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said. “Here’s why we say that. Our biggest issue isn’t with schools that win. It’s with schools that win and get transfers. They’re reloading, they’re back every year, they have new kids and they have kids from New Jersey or Maryland.

“Our point is, let us put this competition formula in place. Let’s watch it play out. Give it time to work.”

Mertz and assistant executive director Patrick Gebhart addressed school administrators Wednesday at the WPIAL annual meeting at the DoubleTree in Green Tree.

Legislation under development by state Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre County) was one of 23 items on their speaking agenda that day. Conklin has argued private, charter and parochial schools have an unfair competitive advantage and should be split into a separate state playoff system from traditional public schools.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi was invited to meet with Conklin next month.

“We don’t really know at this point how much actual support is out there for that (potential legislation),” Mertz said. “However, we’re keeping a close eye on it. I think the conversation that Bob will have with them will certainly help out.”

Mertz said the PIAA isn’t certain what any potential legislation might say if introduced but believed Conklin had changed his position from a public-private split “mandate” to creating legislation that would “allow” for a split.

Conklin also proposed legislation to make the PIAA more transparent.

“Bob will sit down with him and hopefully have a nice discussion on just clearing the air on what’s out there, what’s in place, what the facts are, what the numbers are,” Mertz said. “Hopefully at that point in time we’ll have some more clarity.”

In the meantime, the PIAA posted online updated “success point” totals for the competition formula it implemented to address competitive balance. Basketball teams that reached the PIAA finals received four points, and other state playoff qualifiers received three, two or one, depending on how far they advanced in the tournament.

Basketball teams that collect six points in a two-year cycle will move to a higher classification if that team also had two or more transfers join the roster during that time span.

Football has a similar formula.

At earliest, those won’t impact teams until the 2020-21 school year, so the PIAA is asking for patience.

Public-school advocates have called for quicker action to move nonboundary schools into a separate playoff. The PIAA consistently has argued it cannot legally separate the schools under state law from 1972 without legislative action, which drew Conklin into the hot-button debate.

Public school administrators, led by Millcreek superintendent Bill Hall and Laurel superintendent Leonard Rich, also have worked with state Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver County).

Sean McAleer of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference told PennLive this month that his organization would take legal action against any change to the 1972 legislation as discriminatory.

“The Catholic Conference did say on record that they will probably file suit if we separate,” Mertz said. “We’re not glad to hear that, but we wanted them to come out and say that because up until this point it was us saying it (on their behalf) because they’ve been telling us that. Now that they’ve officially said it, now people maybe have a little better understanding of where we’re at.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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