Lawmakers, stay away from the IHSA

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

The Illinois High School Association encourages fair play and sportsmanship. Some members of the Illinois General Assembly do not seem to be particularly inclined to do so.

The ongoing witch hunt some members of the legislature are intent on consummating even if they don’t find a broom resumed Friday in Chicago.

That was 4 p.m. Friday in the middle of football season — the middle of homecoming season.

Plenty of IHSA supporters showed up to speak on the agency’s behalf during the first meeting in May — so many, in fact, that the meeting had to be moved to a bigger room. They were not allowed to speak, however. Only IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman testified.

This time, lawmakers made it difficult for IHSA allies to attend. How else do you explain the time and day?

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, who chairs the House’s Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, is the inquisitor-in-chief. One of the goals of these meetings is to determine “the feasibility of statutorily transferring the duties and functions of the IHSA to the State Board of Education.”

That’s the wording in House Resolution 895, which barely passed 55-51 in April. That seems like a flimsy margin by which to authorize a process that could so drastically alter the way high school activities are run in this state.

Besides, we’ve never heard members of the Illinois State Board of Education complain about a lack of things to do. Why add another duty to an agency whose critics say is too bureaucratic already?

The IHSA is not perfect. No organization that big is. But it is governed by a board of directors made up of principals from schools big and small, public and private from all areas of the state.

If member schools are upset with the way the IHSA is working, the proper venue is to work through the board, not the General Assembly. The IHSA successfully runs 35 high school sports and activities and generates about $11 million annually. General Assembly and success is an oxymoron in Illinois.

The IHSA is a voluntary association. It collects no assessments, doesn’t charge entry fees and relies on corporate sponsorships, private donations and a share of the ticket fees at tournaments to fund itself. Its audits are available online.

The focus of the May meeting was on how much IHSA officials were getting paid. The IHSA paid nearly $3.1 million in salaries, compensation and benefits during the last school year.

If LaVia and like-minded lawmakers are worried about people getting paid too much, perhaps they should clean up their own house first.

Illinois lawmakers are the fifth-highest paid in the nation, and they get generous pensions as well. The annual salary is $67,836, but there are stipends for majority leaders, minority leaders, assistant leaders and so forth that drive up those salaries by as much as $27,476.

The average annual benefit for retired lawmakers as of June 30, 2013, was $54,528, according to the General Assembly Retirement System. More than 20 retired lawmakers get six-figure pensions. Lawmakers contribute to the pension funds, but taxpayers pay the bulk of the benefits.

Not bad for what’s considered a part-time job.

Lawmakers should dispense with this nonsense. Make Friday’s meeting short, shake hands, wish everyone well and get over to the homecoming dance on time.

—GateHouse News Service