Thomasville Times Enterprise


December 18, 2013

Kornegay cites disparate treatment

THOMASVILLE — The Thomas County School District has accused the Georgia High School Association of disparate treatment during its ongoing biannual reclassification process.

That charge was part of Superintendent Dr. Dusty Kornegay's complaint to the governing body and executive director Dr. Ralph Swearngin in a Dec. 7-dated 11-page letter, of which the Times-Enterprise obtained a copy Tuesday, over the placement of Thomas County Central in separate classes.

The claim of disparate treatment is the final part of Kornegay's push, in the letter, in having Swearngin and the GHSA reclassification committee consider Central's isolation status. While Central's 1,429 students place it just within the Class AAAAA boundarires, the GHSA bylaws allow the committee and Swearngin to consider schools with long travel distances “isolated” and able to move up or down a class to save on travel and the associated costs. During the Dec. 3 meeting to align regions, Central, in addition to Bainbridge, was placed in Region 1-AAAAA for football while being dropped into Region 1-AAAA for all other sports due to that isolated status.

In that same meeting, three Class AAAAAA schools — Evans, near Augusta, and Effingham County and Richmond Hill, both near Savannah — were dropped a class in all sports due to isolation. Hence the basis for Central's complaint, one in which the school district consulted counsel, holding that the GHSA is a quasigovernmental entity and an actor of the state.

“A state actor such as the GHSA must treat similarly situated entities in a like manner,” Kornegay said, summing up Lofton v. Secretary of Deptartment of Children and Family Services in the letter. “However, TCCHS has received disparate treatment in that similarly situated, geographically isolated schools have been placed in a more geographically friendly region within a lower classification, while TCCHS was denied similar treatment. In particular, GHSA permitted Richmond Hill, Effingham and Evans to drop a classification in all sports, including football, due to isolation. However, GHSA refused to allow TCCHS to do the same despite the fact that TCCHS's need to be moved to a more geographically-friendly region is more apparent in that the burdens associated with isolation will be felt more keenly by TCCHS than by the schools identified above. Specifically, TCCHS is a Title I-eligible school, with over half of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch...It is interesting to note that Richmond Hill, Effingham, and Evans are not Title I-eligible and, therefore, their student population is in a better position to shoulder the financial burdens of travel.”

What is reason behind this disparate treatment? Kornegay writes that conversations with Thomasville High School Principal Todd Mobley, the Region 1-AA representative on the GHSA executive committee and a reclassification committee member, on Dec. 1, prior to the region alignment meeting, and Dec. 3, after the meeting was held that morning, details those reasons.

“Mobley, a member of the reclassification committee, informed me that an influential member of the reclassification committee did not want TCCHS or Bainbridge High School in the same region as Cairo High School. Mobley commented that he (Mobley) would 'do what we could to help TCCHS,' Kornegay said in the letter, before going into a conversation following the meeting to learn of the outcome. “In that conversation, he said that influences on the committee would not 'let' TCCHS and Bainbridge play football in AAAA. My conversation with Mobley gave me the strong impression that a member of the committee persuaded the entire committee to keep TCCHS and Bainbridge in AAAAA for football even though TCCHS clearly qualified for isolation status in all sports.”

On Wednesday, Mobley declined a Times-Enterprise request to elaborate further on this conversation.

The belief that Central qualifies for isolation status in all sports stems back to the committee's decision to grant that relief to Evans, Effingham County and Richmond Hill. Based on calculations from Google Maps, Effingham County's average region road trip had it remained in Class AAAAAA and a member of Region 1, would have been 155.14 miles. Richmond Hill's would have been 141.29 in the same region. Meanwhile, Central's average region road game in 1-AAAAA is 140.88 miles. Central also compares favorably in an examination of enrollment size with Effingham County being the 11th smallest school in AAAAAA, 4.96 percent larger than the largest AAAAA school. Evans is the seventh smallest in AAAAAA, 2.67 percent larger than the largest AAAAA school. Richmond Hill is the fifth smallest school in AAAAAA and 2.06 percent larger than the largest AAAAA school. Central, meanwhile, is the fourth smallest AAAAA school and 2.58 percent larger than the largest AAAA school.

Citing Section 4.22(4)(1) of the GHSA Bylaws that provides the isolation clause, Kornegay concludes, “TCCHS is considered an isolated school in Region 1-AAAAA, and based upong the fact that TCCHS has already been assigned to Region 1-AAAA in all sports except football, GHSA already recognizes TCCHS as an isolated school whose student population is compatible with Region 1-AAAA schools.”

In a similar situation the past six years, Kornegay cites the burdens Central has faced as an isolated school include extra transportation costs (trips to the Columbus area cost nearly $8,000 per trip), extra costs feeding student-athletes two meals due to the long trip, the significant loss of class time (half a day) for approximately 250 students (football players, cheerleaders, band members and dance team members), the loss of classroom instruction time by the more than 25 faculty members that serve as coaches, cheer and dance sponsors and band directors, the extra costs of hiring substitutes to replace them, the negative impact on families who are unable, due to financial and/or work constraints, to travel great distances to support their children, the negative impact on school spirit and team morale due to low attendance, and due to low attendance, the loss of revenue on decreased gate receipts. During the past two-year classification cycle, the average gate receipts for Central's region games against teams from the Columbus area were less than one-third of Central's other remaining home games.

Additionally, Kornegay raises questions about the assignment of Central to two separate regions, and the issues that it causes.

“Which regional meeting is TCCHS expected to attend, and in which region is TCCHS entitled to vote?” Kornegay asks. “Is it the region in which TCCHS plays football, or the region in which TCCHS participates for all other sports? Or, is TCCHS expected to attend both region meetings and entitled to vote in both? Also, is TCCHS obligated to pay regional dues to both regions? Finally, how will TCCHS' dual regional placement affect its competitiveness for the All Sports trophy awarded annually in each region within the state?”

As such, Korengay concludes, “Reclassification to Region 1-AAAA for all sports, including football, is the appropriate resolution under the circumstances. I trust that you will place TCCHS accordingly...However, in the event that this request is denied, the Thomas County School District is prepared to seek appropriate legal and/or legislative remedies.”

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