HARRISBURG — Two state legislators say they will seek a joint hearing of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Oversight Committee concerning a lack of financial disclosure by the athletic association and its District IV.
State Sen. Scott Martin, R-13, of Lancaster, and State Rep. Mike Reese, R-59, of Mount Pleasant Township, both of whom are committee members, met with The Daily Item on Tuesday at the State Capital, in Harrisburg.
Both lawmakers said they would speak with other oversight committee members on convening a hearing and setting a date.
Martin and Reese said they were concerned with reports of PIAA District IV's finances not being made public. State Rep. David Rowe, R-85, of Mifflinburg, said he shared the same concerns.
"I think there is nothing wrong with holding a hearing and speaking with the PIAA and District IV members," Reese said Tuesday from his Harrisburg office.
The Daily Item made repeated attempts through Pennsylvania’s open records law to obtain financial records documenting revenues and expenses through PIAA District IV.
Receipts for food and beverages for District IV meetings held at various restaurants were among items specifically sought. Members of the district committee have refused to answer whether alcohol was consumed while deliberating district business impacting student-athletes and District IV finances.
The district is made up of 48 schools, including Danville, Lewisburg, Line Mountain, Lourdes Regional, Meadowbrook Christian, Midd-West, Mifflinburg, Milton, Mount Carmel, Northumberland Christian, Selinsgrove, Shamokin, Shikellamy, Southern Columbia and Warrior Run.
In a Right to Know request filed by The Daily Item last year, PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi declined a record request, claiming no financial records were turned in by District IV officials. James Zack, now retired from his role as superintendent at Shamokin Area, was the District IV committee chairman and PIAA board president at the time.
“District IV did not provide financial information between 2016 and February 2019,” Lombardi said in denying the request.
Martin and Reese spoke with Rowe, state Rep. Lynda Culver, R-108, of Sunbury, and Kurt Masser, R-107, of Elysburg about holding an oversight meeting. Rowe and Culver are not on the oversight committee but have both questioned PIAA officials on District IV finances in the past.
"Locally, members of the community have raised concerns about some of the practices and procedures by District IV. This hearing would address and seek answers," Culver said.
Rowe said he became curious and requested financial information on District IV from Lombardi last fall. Rowe then said he asked PIAA for a more detailed report and that's when PIAA stopped responding, he said.
"My office asked three times," Rowe said Tuesday. "When we first asked for the information they asked us why we wanted it. The financial information initially provided to me was very general. I have since made multiple requests for more financials, specifically in regards to expenditures, but I have yet to receive them."
Rowe said he is happy a hearing will be convened.
"Legislative oversight of taxpayer dollars is one of the principal duties of the General Assembly," he said. "I am very glad to hear the oversight committee will be resuming its role as fiscal watchdogs for our school districts, student-athletes and their families."
Prior to Rowe taking office, former state representative now U.S. Congressman Fred Keller said he was made aware of financial documents not being made public within District IV.
"I commend my former colleagues in the state House and Senate for exercising their oversight role and ensuring full transparency and accountability in the PIAA and District IV," Keller said. "This is a step in the right direction toward restoring accountability and public trust."
Last month, Zack retired from his role as District IV chairman. He was replaced by current Shamokin Area Superintendent Chris Venna, who was Zack’s successor at the district.
A day after Venna was announced chairman, Line Mountain Superintendent Dave Campbell resigned from the district board. Campbell was a longtime District IV member and chair of its wrestling committee.
In a statement released to the media, Campbell said he "could no longer serve as the wrestling chairman” and that he felt his resignation was in the best interest of his top priority, the Line Mountain School District.
In February 2018, The Daily Item requested receipts for food and beverages after various members of District IV raised concerns about meetings held at Buffalo Wild Wings in Williamsport, Watson Inn in Watsontown, and Eagles Mere Country Club in Sullivan County.
Zack, Venna, Sullivan County Superintendent Patricia Cross and Glenn Fogel, a retired Mifflinburg principal who was the District IV secretary at the time of the records request, refused to answer questions regarding the meetings.
Zack, who was in charge of the finances, never responded to questions as to why District IV did not provide financial records to the PIAA main office for at least three years.
Lombardi, in emails to The Daily Item, stated that PIAA committee members are volunteers. However, documents show some volunteer members get paid to work playoff games and receive mileage checks for their travel to games or to district or state meetings.
Lombardi also told The Daily Item he believes the newspaper is harassing Cross and Zack by filing Right to Know Law (RTKL) requests seeking public information.
"You’re habitual attacks and repeated requests on Superintendents Cross and Zack is nothing more than a personal vendetta for two people who have been annually elected to serve their member schools," Lombardi wrote in an email to the newspaper on Tuesday.
Pennsylvania Newspaper Association attorney Melissa Melewsky said filing Right to Know requests seeking public information is about transparency.
"The law exists to facilitate public access to records, which provides accountability for government decisions," she said. "Transparency is an absolutely necessary function of government, and media organizations routinely use the law to inform the communities they serve. The PIAA’s position on the use of the RTKL is unfortunate and illustrates the tension that can result from seeking access and accountability from government agencies. The RTKL was not intended to be an adversarial process, but one designed to inform the public and improve government function. Reasonableness and collaboration can go a long way in easing the process along."