PIAA looking to limit athletics at charter schools with proposal

Chris Harlan
| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 3:51 p.m.

A PIAA plan, that would make charter school athletes play sports on public-school teams in their home districts has little chance for success, Lincoln Park athletic director Mike Bariski said.

A panel of state lawmakers met Tuesday to discuss legislation proposed by PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi intended to limit the athletic programs at charter schools.

“It's unrealistic,” said Bariski, who attended the informational meeting in Harrisburg on the invitation of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. “They left (their home) school for a reason. Why do you want to send them back there? Will they be welcomed back? Will they be given a fair shake? You don't know that.”

Lombardi said the plan “maintains school loyalty, makes eligibility uniform for all students, focuses athletic funds for residents at the public school and eliminates the substantial competitive inequities which have become apparent.”

Yet lawmakers weren't convinced to act.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, who organized the meeting, said afterward that he urged the two sides to try to resolve their differences.

Bariski left the meeting optimistic, calling it “a great day for charter schools across the state.”

“The legislators were not in favor whatsoever of what the PIAA was trying to present,” Bariski said. “One said the chances of this happening are slim to none.”

Currently, charter school students who want to play multiple sports must play for their charter school teams if that sport is offered and, for other sports, may play on teams at their neighborhood public school. But Lombardi said the arrangement constitutes a “dual enrollment” status for charter school students that is not available to students who attend public school or who are home-schooled.

Charter schools are privately run public schools that are financed with payments from the students' local school districts. Lombardi said some charters use their unique status to build “all-star” boys basketball teams that steamroller public school teams in state tournaments.

“From a competitive standpoint, charter schools have made obsolete any realistic competition with traditional public schools,” Lombardi told the special legislative panel.

Administrators from several charter schools also spoke. Lincoln Park acting CEO P.K. Poling and school board president Chris Shovlin represented the Beaver County performing arts charter school, as did senior Ryan Skovranko and junior Antonio Kellem, who answered lawmakers' questions.

The students were starters for the Lincoln Park basketball team that won the state Class A title in March. Eight charter schools have won PIAA boys basketball titles since 2006.

Lincoln Park was 30-1 this season. In the state championship, Lincoln Park beat Math, Civics and Science, a charter school from Philadelphia.

“If we were 2-20, nobody would care,” Bariski said.

Shovlin stressed that money for athletics comes from the school's booster club, not taxpayers.

“Our athletics program is 100 percent independent from the school,” Bariski said. “Coaches' salaries, uniforms, buses, every dime is raised by the athletic department.”

The PIAA has 1,416 senior and junior high schools, including 45 charter schools, with a concentration in Philadelphia. Lincoln Park, located in Midland, is the only charter school in the WPIAL.

“We don't necessarily have a problem with charter schools,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. “There's only one, and that one school plays one sport. … Although that one charter school has dominated that one sport, which has created some concern.”

The WPIAL hasn't taken an official stance.

“We'll just take a wait-and-see attitude,” O'Malley said, “because it's not tremendously impactful back here.”

The Associated Press contributed. Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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