Local ADs support tabling multiplier plan

WIAA members this week voted 352-77 to table a proposed 1.65 private school enrollment multiplier, sending the issue to a committee tasked to address a perceived private school advantage in high school athletics.

Slowing the process down appears to also have a lot of support locally.

“We did support sending it to committee and allowing everyone to get a little bit more educated on the whole topic,” said Charmaine Schreiber, Shawano Community High School athletic director. “There’s always, when you’re dealing with athletics, talk of fairness. Public versus private, rural versus urban, it’s constantly revisited in the world of athletics.”

The problem — one of a perceived uneven playing field between the state’s public and private schools, especially at the lowest enrollment divisions — has been a hot-button topic since the WIAA absorbed the state’s private schools into its membership in 2000.

Since those early days, thanks in large part to new rules allowing open-enrollment, vouchers and charter schools that apply to all Wisconsin districts, the issue has refocused on the advantages that urban schools — particularly in lower enrollment divisions — enjoy over their rural counterparts.

The system remains the same as it was in 2006, with divisional placement determined solely on actual enrollment for every school across the state.

The majority of those who signed the 1.65 multiplier petition come from schools in rural areas — parts of the state that see little or no benefit from open-enrollment policies.

For rural schools, the lack of other high schools within driving distance makes open enrollment a rarity.

For schools within the surrounding areas of Milwaukee, Madison or Green Bay — where the large majority of private schools are located — bringing in students who live in other districts becomes much more realistic.

Schreiber said the issue is not likely have much of an impact on Shawano Community High School.

“It really wouldn’t affect us much, because we don’t really have any private schools within our conference,” she said.

Athletic directors from Gresham Community High School and Menominee Indian High School would not say how their districts voted, but both said the issue was complicated.

“Obviously, there is an issue. It’s a pretty complex issue,” said Chuck Raasch, Menominee Indian athletic director. “There’s a lot of other factors that have to be considered to level the playing field.

“Anything that creates a more level playing field is going to be best for everybody. How you do it, that is the trick. If it were easy, it would already be done.”

The committee, which will be formed in the next few weeks, will have to come up with a plan by Sept. 1, with a proposal expected to be ready for next year’s annual meeting.

Raasch said the issue potentially affects MIHS more in tournament play than in the Central Wisconsin Conference-10, and he said any solution will have to treat urban and rural schools differently.

“A lot of the discussion went to the disparity of urban and rural schools,” he said.

The committee has carte blanche to come up with any solutions it sees fit, whether tried-and-true or novel. It could push for a multiplier or other enrollment-adjusting formula, or it could back a “success factor” bumping up schools that have enjoyed recent success.

It could come up with more creative solutions such as rebuilding the entire tournament format, including adjustments to the number of divisions and qualifiers that make it to the state tournament in various sports. Other potential solutions include factoring in special-needs students at public schools, international students at private schools, and even the number of students who receive free and reduced lunch vouchers.

The WIAA members also voted 400-26 to defeat a measure that would take the WIAA out of the conference realignment process and instead give schools control over conference formation and affiliation.

“We absolutely would like it to remain in the hands of the WIAA,” Schreiber said. “I think it’s really important to have a third party. Being a rural setting, it could be a challenge for us to find a conference to fit with, if it were left up to the local schools.”

“We felt the WIAA should have some input,” said Jeff Zobeck, Gresham athletic director. “We felt that was for the best. If it were to be decided locally, that would open a whole new can of worms.”