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Another angle on the IHSA lawsuit

Monday, Jul 28, 2014

* Phil Kadner writes about a little-known angle of the Better Government Association’s suit against the not-for-profit Illinois High School Association

(T)he IHSA generates money for its schools, and the school boards, athletic directors and coaches are prepared to protect it from public scrutiny.

That’s how Consolidated High School District 230, based in Orland Park, got dragged as a defendant into the BGA lawsuit.

There’s a law that states a public agency that does business with another agency, even if it is private, must turn over any documents in its possession about that private business.

Andrew High School in Tinley Park is in District 230, and its principal, Andrew Nolting, is an IHSA board member.

So the BGA filed a freedom of information request with District 230, asking for the IHSA documents that it couldn’t get from the IHSA. District 230 denied the request, claiming that the documents sought “do not pertain to the transaction of the district’s public business.”

Let’s forget the legal mumbo jumbo for a minute and the responsibility of public bodies to be transparent.

Why would organizations that use schoolchildren to make money refuse to provide information about how they spend that money?

There would be no need for a lawsuit if people of good will simply did what was in the public’s interest.

I can see how the IHSA can say it’s protected from FOIA, but a high school district?

- Posted by Rich Miller        


29 Comments
  1. - AlabamaShake - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 3:50 pm:

    Let me first say that I fully support forcing IHSA to abide by state FOIA laws.

    But this argument is just silly:

    **Why would organizations that use schoolchildren to make money refuse to provide information about how they spend that money?**

    That just doesn’t make sense. Any organization that “use[s] schoolchildren”, regardless of where there funding comes from, should be FOIAable? Come on.


  2. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 3:50 pm:

    so if a newspaper run a legal notice and gets paid tax dollars and the run some sparkling item from Handyout Andy’s group does that mean the paper and Handout can start responding FOIA too?
    Seems about as logical


  3. - DuPage - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:02 pm:

    Board members of an outside organization usually have some sort of agreement to not disclose confidential information of the organization. Just exactly what the school district has and why it would be confidential is a good question. It might involve school employees and be considered as personnel records which are exempt.


  4. - walker - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:04 pm:

    Are the companies that provide caps and gowns for graduations FOIAble too? Not likely.

    A better argument is that the IGHA operates de facto as a public education organization regardless of what it calls itself.


  5. - Chris - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    “so if a newspaper run a legal notice and gets paid tax dollars and the run some sparkling item from Handyout Andy’s group does that mean the paper and Handout can start responding FOIA too?”

    Is the newspaper earning 100% of it’s income from those kids? Are they (supposedly) spending that money on goods and services to benefit those kids?

    No? Well, then it’s not a good analogy.


  6. - Demoralized - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:06 pm:

    The IHSA is a private organization. I absolutely am against this logic that a private organization that does business with a public entity must be subject to FOIA. Who would want to do business with a public entity if they are forced to be subject to FOIA? This whole episode is nothing but nonsense.


  7. - Bogey Golfer - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:14 pm:

    The BGA is totally overstepping its self-appointed authority. Completely agree with Demoralized (at least on this one).


  8. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:17 pm:

    === a private organization that does business with a public entity must be subject to FOIA===

    IHSA goes way beyond that and you most certainly know it. This isn’t some little vendor. It dictates activities of just about every public school athlete and their schools in this state.


  9. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:28 pm:

    Kadner misstates the law, which provides: “A public record that is not in the possession of a public body but is in the possession of a party with whom the agency has contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the public body, and that directly relates to the governmental function and is not otherwise exempt under this Act, shall be considered a public record of the public body, for purposes of this Act.” (5 ILCS 140/7(2)) This is intended to cover the situation where a public body ‘outsources’ something - it can’t then claim that the documents are not FOIA-able just because they’re in someone else’s hands.


  10. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:31 pm:

    Rich, make that “public and private school athlete.”

    IMHO, the issue driving at least part of this is the so-called “Success Rule” enacted by IHSA last year that moves non-boundaried private schools (most of them) up a class above their actual enrollment for IHSA competition purposes.


  11. - Downstate - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:35 pm:

    If the IHSA is a non-profit, then their books are required by law to be open to public inspection.

    Just looked at the IHSA by-laws, online. While they require an annual audit, it doesn’t appear that the member schools can demand access to that audit. It’s frankly rather vague on who gets to see the audit - only the Chairman of the board, Chairman of the Legislative committee and one high school principal make up the audit committee.

    For all the detail in their by-laws, the stuff on audit and financial accountability are none too precise.


  12. - Bogey Golfer - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:37 pm:

    At least three of the 11 current Board Members are from private schools - Not sure if Urbana (University) is private or public.


  13. - Demoralized - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:41 pm:

    ==IHSA goes way beyond that and you most certainly know it.==

    No, Rich, I don’t know it. If it’s a public organization then the law should make that clear. I don’t buy into this “special” crap. It’s either public or it’s not. The law needs to make that more clear.


  14. - Demoralized - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:43 pm:

    Besides, Rich, where do you draw the line between what is “special” and what isn’t. I think Steve Schnorf asked that question yesterday and I didn’t see any answer to that question.


  15. - Anonymous - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:53 pm:

    Downstate - what’s the citation for the legal requirement that the books of a non-profit are open for public inspection? I don’t think so. There’s a Form 990 tax return that must be publicly available, for certain tax-exempt NFPs but that’s a lot less than ‘the books.’


  16. - Jimmy 87 - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:10 pm:

    If the General Assembly is looking for a place to begin drawing the line on which so-called “private” organizations ought to be subject to FOIA, they should look at the IHSA and also the Illinois Municipal League.

    As Rich points out, the IHSA, even by their own admission is currently functioning as a “state actor.” They essentially dictate the rules and eligibility requirements for public high school athletes in Illinois.

    The IML, unlike the IHSA (they have some private members), is comprised totally of public bodies. Yet the IML does something other local government groups don’t do - they collect a tax. The Illinois Foreign Fire Insurance Tax is a two-percent charge paid by consumers who purchase fire insurance from companies based outside of Illinois and it’s collected by the IML. If you’re a group comprised totally of public bodies and your collecting a tax for the state of Illinois, there ought to be some transparency.


  17. - RonOglesby - Now in TX - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:18 pm:

    I guess it depends on WHAT documents are being asked for. The lines above say they are looking for IHSA documents they could not get from the IHSA…

    Well if the IHSA gives/sends those documents to schools. And it is full of requirements, costs (things the school must pay), and what not… Aren’t you really FOIA’ing the documents that the SCHOOL now has as a course of the SCHOOL business.

    I mean if a private company sells… Toilet seats or benches or books to a school. I may not be able to FOIA that private company. BUT I sure as hell can FOIA the school to know the cost of the books, instruction materials or directions that came with the books. Costs of the toilet seats or directions/requirements for the seats SENT TO THE SCHOOL, maintenance manuals or procedures designed by the school to conform to requirements sent from the manufacturer…

    does that sound all that crazy? A high school (or any school) has a contract with the IHSA or requirements, notes, handbooks, that the SCHOOL AND STUDENTS must follow… why cant they be FOIA’d?

    I think there are things that dont belong out in public but there is also a bunch of sweet deals being protected when there are this many fights about not showing documents and contracts to the public.


  18. - JS Mill - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:20 pm:

    As to Kadner’s statemen:

    “Or to be more precise, the IHSA generates money for its schools, and the school boards, athletic directors and coaches are prepared to protect it from public scrutiny.”

    I think he is wrong about school boards but may be correct about some others involved in schools particularly those who serve on the IHSA Board, Principals, and athletic directors. Usually it is not about money. The IHSA generally does not generate money for schools. I am not sure what he is basing that on. The gate revenue from state series games that schools host is minimal at best. School Boards may take direction from their leadership as in the case of Dist 230, but they generally have little or no interaction with the IHSA.


  19. - Soccermom - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:43 pm:

    Let’s not forget that the Comptroller’s inspector general was simultaneously working as a defense attorney, during work hours.

    Let’s keep the Auditor General and just get rid of these other clowns. They cost taxpayers millions, and they seem to focus on ridiculously small stuff. i mean, read this and weep:
    http://www2.illinois.gov/oeig/Documents/10-00228_Stone_05.24.12.pdf


  20. - Coach - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:44 pm:

    But yet the General Assembly cannot find time to straightened out fiscal mess!


  21. - Norseman - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 5:48 pm:

    The article said the BGA was “asking for the IHSA documents that it couldn’t get from the IHSA.” The wording is a little unclear so I assume the records were relevant to the school district and in its possession.

    It’s been a bit since I read FOIA, but I don’t recall the district’s response that the records “do not pertain to the transaction of the district’s public business” falls under one of the acceptable exemptions.

    Records held by a public body are open unless they fall under an exemption under the law.


  22. - RNUG - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 6:41 pm:

    - Downstate - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 4:35 pm:

    Not true. Just because you are an NFP, it does not mean your records are public beyond what is required to be filed as an annual report by the incorporating State and what is required by the federal IRS (usually a 990 or a 990-N postcard for smaller organizatins). I file that paperwork for a small NFP; there is almost zero financial detail in what I file. About the only detailed information I file is list of the officers and board members.


  23. - DuPage - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 7:58 pm:

    @Soccermom5:43
    Not only was it a chicken s**t investigation, but they then put it online, violating the law that says personnel records are confidential.
    Meza should be fired and banned from any future state employment or contracts for doing that, it was a much more significant illegal act of wrongdoing then anything the employee did.


  24. - Capo - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 9:10 pm:

    Soccermom - read some of the Tollway IG summaries. A complete joke. I agree these clowns need to go. Seem to remember Rich writing about these goofs a few years ago and concluding the same.


  25. - Retired AD - Monday, Jul 28, 14 @ 9:24 pm:

    Downstate…the IHSA tax returns, independent audit and annual report are all posted online for any member of the public to see.


  26. - frustrated GOP - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 7:47 am:

    I’m still trying to understand how IHSA makes money for schools. Ha, they all pay dues and dictated to on post season play photos and access. Not sure how schools make money from IHSA.


  27. - Retired AD - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 8:46 am:

    Frustrated…schools pay no dues, fees or anything else to be a part of IHSA. When we host IHSA postseason events like Regionals or Sectionals at a school, we receive a host guarantee and then a share of the ticket sales. We also keep all concession money, 50/50 raffles, etc. Some sports are breakeven type affairs (IHSA reimburses if you lose money on an event), while sports like basketball and football can produce significant revenue for a school


  28. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Jul 29, 14 @ 9:21 am:

    Retired AD- please explain your definition of “significant” because in my experience the amount of money is not significant. Usually less than a net of $2000-$3000. In the scope of a $35,0000,000 school budget that is not much money.


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