, Muskogee, OK


June 10, 2009

Private schools won’t move up

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Non-public high schools in Oklahoma won’t be forced to move into a higher classification for the next school year, after a motion seeking the change was voted down Tuesday by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s board of directors.

The board decided to keep the current system in place while appointing a committee to study how schools should be classified.

The committee would have about two months to develop a plan that could be presented to OSSAA members during October meetings. After that, the board could take the committee’s plan and send it to a vote of the OSSAA membership.

“They do have an understanding that this issue is not going to go away,” said Jim Beckham, the superintendent at Blanchard and one of the top proponents of the measure rejected by the board. “They have to do something at some point.”

In recent years, as non-public schools have enjoyed more success in OSSAA-sponsored activities — most notably in football and basketball — resentment from public-school administrators and patrons has built because of suspicions the non-public schools recruited students for athletic purposes, which would be a violation of OSSAA rules.

The non-public schools have denied such recruiting and have said they need to draw from wider geographic areas than public schools to remain viable. They have also denied charges of deliberately limiting their enrollment to remain in a lower classification and thus be more competitive.

“That would be financial suicide,” said Ralph Bullard, the school ambassador for Christian Heritage Academy in Del City. “It’s a very hard business. We don’t determine our school size based on athletics.”

The OSSAA classifies schools based on their average daily membership — or ADM. The rejected proposal called for the ADM of non-public schools to be determined by using the school’s actual ADM and adding 50 percent of the ADM of the public school in the district in which the private school is located. A school could not have been moved up more than two classes.

The board voted not to send that proposal — developed by representatives from Bridge Creek, Blanchard, Holdenville and Sulphur schools — to OSSAA members for a vote.

Nineteen of the state’s non-public high schools are private, while two others — Sequoyah in Tahlequah and Riverside in Anadarko — are federally funded government Indian service schools.

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