(TRENTON) — Assemblyman John Burzichelli on Tuesday said the agency that’s been flagrantly overcharging for high school wrestling tournament tickets should refund its excessive ticket revenues by giving New Jersey public schools a credit on 2010 membership fees.

Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem) said he has asked acting state Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler to direct the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) not to charge admissions higher than allowed under state law and to refund bloated playoff ticket revenues by crediting public schools for their 2010 membership fees.

“The people running this group have been overcharging parents, families and fans for high school playoff tickets and boosting public school membership fees while giving themselves pay raises and ignoring state law,” Burzichelli said. “This is hardly a demonstration of good faith on their part and shows an extreme unwillingness to change an unacceptable culture of excess.”

Burzichelli noted the NJSIAA executive director received a $115,000 salary for fiscal year 2006, but according to the group’s tax returns, that salary soared to $126,181 by fiscal year 2008 following 4.5 percent and 5 percent pay hikes.

“Pay hikes like that, coming as New Jersey public schools struggle to make ends meet, are what leaves New Jerseyans shaking their heads in amazement,” Burzichelli said. “For all their claims of money woes, the people who run this group are doing pretty good for themselves. I want this money refunded, both out of principle and for the benefit of our property taxpayers.”

Burzichelli noted that at $6 per ticket, the first 21,000 tickets sold go toward the executive director’s salary. Burzichelli sponsored a 2007 law that took effect on Jan. 29, just in time for high school wrestling tournaments.

Under the law, the NJSIAA is allowed to increase ticket prices during playoff matches only if the games are played in a venue outside a high school stadium with the authority of the Commissioner of Education, but the group still increased tickets prices for wrestling tournaments held in high school facilities.

Burzichelli first drafted the law in late 2004, following complaints from high school football fans outraged that tickets for NJSIAA playoff contests in South Jersey cost more than double what some schools charged for regular season admission.

“This agency feeds off public school dues that come straight from the hard-earned dollars of New Jersey property taxpayers,” Burzichelli said. “They had three years to get ready for this change but instead are flouting state law. They’ve now enjoyed more than a week of inflated revenue, all contrary to the new law expressly enacted to protect already overburdened families across our state. It must stop.”

Burzichelli said he has received several e-mails and calls from parents and fans criticizing the inflated tickets prices and backing efforts to control them, including:

  • Calls from several parents who attended the group wrestling finals this Sunday at a public high school gym. The day was split in two sessions. The admission price for adults was $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and kids. Because their team was successful in the first session they had to pay a second time to sit in the same seat.
  • An e-mail from a Franklin, Sussex County parent who wrote, “As a parent of a successful high school wrestler, we actually feel we are being punished by my son’s success.” The parent added, “I feel as a parent that we should not have to pay an additional amount than what is regularly charged to see my son compete.”
  • An e-mail from a Branchville parent who wrote, “The prices for these events are making it impossible to take a family to all the wrestling events that their community competes in.”
  • A call from another Branchville parent who noted attending a weekend of wrestling cost his family more than $100.

“This is clearly bad faith conduct,” Burzichelli said. “The taxpayers and public schools deserve better than to have to pay bloated salaries at an out-of-control organization that ignores the law.”

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