November: WIAA needs greater transparency

2009 Columns


The state of Wisconsin has a long tradition of open and transparent government. This is a reflection of our Wisconsin values, which place great importance on the individual citizen’s involvement in government.

The state also has a strong tradition of athletics. Whether it is the Packers, the Badgers, or the local high school football team, Wisconsin residents proudly cheer for their team — even in the worst weather.

In particular, high school athletics play an important role in many people’s lives. These sports foster camaraderie among students and help to bring communities together.

For more than 100 years, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has been involved in our high school athletics. This organization was formed in 1895 to unite people interested in promoting athletic competition between Wisconsin high schools. Through the years it has become more and more involved.

The WIAA currently sets nearly all policies relating to Wisconsin’s high school athletics. From conference alignment and athletic eligibility requirements to the types of sports equipment that must be worn by participants, the WIAA makes the final decisions, with limited options for appeals.

This has a significant impact not only on the athletes on the field, but also on school administrators who must abide by the WIAA’s decisions.

Unfortunately, because the WIAA is considered a private entity, it does not need to abide by state public records and open meetings laws. Therefore, its decisions are made without public input or oversight.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the WIAA is primarily funded through dues paid by participating schools and revenues generated through athletic competitions. These events are primarily held at high school gymnasiums, athletic fields, and other facilities that are built and maintained at the expense of Wisconsin taxpayers.

Since the WIAA heavily relies on state and local tax dollars, it only makes sense that this organization should abide by the state’s public records and open meetings laws.

In order to bring more transparency to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, I have introduced a bill that would prohibit a school district from being a member of an interscholastic athletic association unless that organization agrees to be governed by Wisconsin’s openness laws.

This bill, which has bi-partisan support, would bring public oversight to a group whose decisions affect nearly all school districts and hundreds of thousands of students and their families.

I do not have a problem with an organization such as the WIAA overseeing high school athletics. The WIAA is necessary to ensure that these competitions are held in a fair and safe manner.

But an organization that relies so heavily on taxpayer money should operate in an open and public manner.

State Rep. Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis) urges citizens with questions or comments regarding this bill to contact him at 1-888-534-0015. Your Right to Know is produced by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, dedicated to protecting public access to meetings and records.