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Lawmakers grill IHSA boss

SPRINGFIELD — A legislative hearing on the Illinois High School Association’s oversight of high school sports grew testy at times Tuesday, with one lawmaker lecturing dozens of educators who turned out in support of the IHSA and another calling the hearing “about the biggest screwed-up mess I’ve seen Springfield produce.”

Nothing was settled by the end of the hearing, which lasted about three hours and had to be moved to accommodate a larger-than-expected crowd of IHSA supporters. But two things were clear:

• A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, wants the IHSA’s 10-member board and 25-member staff — both of which are mostly white — to include more minorities. Two IHSA board members are black women. One is set to retire. Of the Bloomington-based organization’s 11 administrators, one is a black man. The rest are white.

• They also want the IHSA to disclose more information about the $11 million it takes in and spends each year, even though it’s a private, not-for-profit group.

But Republicans attending the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee hearing drew ovations from the more than 50 IHSA supporters when they questioned why the General Assembly was sticking its nose in the association’s business.

“You spend less than you take in,” Rep. John D. Cavaletto, R-Salem, told Marty Hickman, the IHSA’s executive director. “I wish we could do that here.”

The hearing was the result of a Chapa LaVia-sponsored resolution calling for lawmakers to examine the IHSA’s finances and consider a takeover of the organization by the State Board of Education.

As a private entity, the IHSA isn’t subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which would require it disclose details about its sponsorship and television deals and about how it manages its $8.7 million pension fund, among other things.

But Chapa LaVia — with support from the Illinois Press Association, of which the Chicago Sun-Times is a member — says the IHSA should be subject to the state’s open-records law because the group wouldn’t exist without its 800-plus member high schools, more than 80 percent of them public schools.

Hickman at times expressed frustration with Chapa LaVia and the Democrats supporting her, including Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, and Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, questioning why legislators felt the need to pass a resolution to bring him before the panel.

“I think this could have been done with a simple phone call,” he said.

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The Sun-Times reported earlier this week that profits from the IHSA boys basketball tournament — its signature event — are down 29 percent since 2006. Meanwhile, IHSA “salaries, other compensation [and] employee benefits” totaled nearly $3.1 million for the last school year, 2012-2013 — up 21 percent over the previous year, according to the IHSA’s most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

During the hearing, Hickman told lawmakers that was “100 percent wrong.”

After the hearing, he said, “The fact of the matter is that there were different ways to calculate those benefits. I’ve got an explanation from our accountants. We’re going to provide it. It’s going to show that the increase is somewhere more in the 3 to 4 percent range.”

Chapa LaVia said she wants to hold two more hearings on the IHSA — one in Chicago and one in Southern Illinois — so lawmakers can hear from school officials in those regions.

She drew jeers from the IHSA supporters Tuesday, none louder than when she asked two witnesses to repeat their testimony about alleged plagiarism involving questions used at the IHSA Scholastic Bowl. She had briefly left the hearing to tend to business before the House Judiciary Committee.

“Hey, listen right now,” she told the organization’s supporters, mostly principals and athletic directors. “You guys are on live television, and the way you act and conduct yourself is the way that the children will watch you act and conduct yourself.

“If you cannot accept . . . the way we run committees down here, we are going to ask you to be removed.”

St. Ignatius High School athletic director Jim Prunty, who was there to support the IHSA, said the hearing “was nothing like I expected it to be. The lack of organization, the lack of protocol, in some cases the lack of professionalism was kind of appalling. I’m talking about the legislators.

“People weren’t listening. Many things had to be repeated. If these hearings continue, I certainly hope there is more decorum . . . and it won’t be the free-for-all that this one was.”

IHSA IRS filing