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Public vs. private.

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE: Nothing promises that the issue won't come up again next summer. But for the Arkansas Activities Association and most of the state's private schools who don't offer financial aid for student-athletes, Aug. 4 turned out to be a win-win. For Springdale's Shiloh Christian, whose perceived competitive advantage over the public schools in its 4A-1 conference brought about Proposal 7 that could have kept the Saints and other aid-offering private schools from competing with the publics in the state playoffs this fall, the Aug. 4 meeting and vote of the AAA governing body in Little Rock was no worse than breaking even.

The governing body voted down a proposal that would have separated private schools that offer financial aid from public schools during the 2009 state high school football postseason. A short time later, the governing body overwhelmingly passed Proposal 8, designed to keep non-public schools from attracting high school transfers who then could be immediately eligible. Proposal 8 requires a student to enroll before July 1 of his or her seventh-grade year (or, if the school doesn't offer seventh- or eighth-grade, the lowest grade that is offered) for immediate eligibility. Students transferring to a non-public school after the period provided for eligibility would sit out for a year.

Proposal 7 was a hot-button topic since the spring, when it first surfaced. Berryville aimed the measure at 4A-1 conference rival Shiloh Christian, following a season in which Shiloh won the 4A state championship and, during the regular conference season, beat Berryville 65-0.

The Berryville administration contended Shiloh had a competitive advantage over the public schools in the conference due to financial aid offered to students. Shiloh, with an enrollment of 110 students, has won five state championships in various classifications in the past 10 years. The Saints have an enrollment number that, even with current AAA legislation, would allow it to play in 3A, but they choose to play up a classification.

On Aug. 4, Berryville superintendent Randy Byrd outlined his district's problems trying to compete against private schools and told the rest of the governing board, "Frankly, we need your help."

While Shiloh won 4A, Pulaski Academy, a Little Rock private school, won the 5A classification's state football championship in 2008.

"The 21 private schools make up 6 percent of the AAA's total number of schools, but last year they won 25 percent of the state championships," Byrd said. "This is not just a Shiloh-Berryville problem," adding that no previous measures have worked to level the field, in his view.

The seventh of eight proposals on the agenda Aug. 4 required a two-thirds majority to pass and did not receive a simple majority of votes among the state superintendents or their representatives. The measure failed 114-93. The AAA board had recommended a "do not pass" for the measure in a 15-3 vote of the board during the association's June workshop.

The AAA's own proposal, No. 8, was created at the workshop as a better alternative to separating the public and private schools in postseason play, but it first required the failure of Proposal 7 to be brought to vote Tuesday. Requiring only a simple majority, it passed overwhelmingly, 247-25.

"Any proposal that will help level the playing field, we're better off," Byrd said seconds after Proposal 8 passed. "I don't know how deep that will go but it has to help."

AAA executive director Lance Taylor said of the governing body's vote, "The other members of the AAA that nobody's targeting out there, that are doing things correctly--sportsmanship, being fair--they're all getting painted with the same brush, which is not fair. I think that's what was demonstrated, that the schools understood that.

"But also, those other school [non-public] schools are going to have to step and they're going to have to demand that all their members of the non-public school system do right. I don't think there's any question about that. I think that was the message that was sent today."
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Title Annotation:NOTES
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Aug 24, 2009
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