Amid a series of legislative hearings targeting its finances and operations, the IHSA is pumping up the defense.
What organization wouldn't, when a lawmaker alleges such infractions as hiding information from state officials, plagiarizing, unduly taking profits for itself from food and broadcast contracts, and barring parents from shooting photos of their student athletes?
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The Illinois High School Association, which disputes the claims, came under scrutiny last month when state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia proposed a House resolution to seek more transparency and accountability for the nonprofit that administers sports and other co-curricular programs at more than 800 high schools. The resolution narrowly passed, and the first of three hearings was held in Springfield this week.
The Illinois Press Association, of which the Daily Herald is a member, was among the groups pushing for the inquiry, saying the quasi-governmental organization should adhere to open meetings and public records laws.
The intentions of Chapa LaVia, an Aurora Democrat, are well-directed. It's not hard to see the need for oversight of a statewide organization that takes in millions each year through ticket sales and vendor contracts. The IHSA may not be a creation of the state, but it certainly draws the majority of its revenue from taxpayer-funded events. "(You) are all part owners of the IHSA," Chapa LaVia said after Tuesday's hearing, "because you're paying taxes, property taxes that pay for schools, public schools,"
Judging by the three-hour meeting, however, her ability to keep focus on the key issues may prove the biggest challenge. Beyond finances and transparency, the discussion was pocked with contentious accusations and tangents, including the racial makeup of IHSA board members and why Chicago doesn't host basketball title games.
That's not to say those issues aren't important, and perhaps they will be addressed in time. For now, however, the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, which Chapa LaVia leads, needs to remain focused on its mandate to evaluate transparency and accountability in IHSA operations.
A good place to start is in seeking answers to questions like why, according to a Sun-Times investigation of IRS filings, IHSA staff salaries have increased while revenues have fallen in recent years and the degree to which the organization should be responsible to the public for its financial decisions. Executive Director Marty Hickman asserts that IHSA posts financial reports online, balances its budget, funds its pensions and turns millions of dollars back over to schools, That's all well enough. Nevertheless, the IHSA's symbiotic relationship with public schools justifies a higher-than-normal standard for accountability.
Chapa LaVia's committee hearings ought to be pointing toward what that standard should be. Nothing binding can come from the examination, so at best these hearings will give the IHSA a chance to affirm its value and integrity. At worst, they'll become circuslike and only detract from the state's deeper problems. Constructive results would score points for both sides with the public.