HARRISBURG - The new board chairman of Pennsylvania's student loan agency defended private retreats that the board has held to entertain clients, but also said the agency should consider limiting those expenses.

"I think everybody feels that it's time we got to tightening our belt buckles. . . . Any excess, I'm not going to support," Rep. William Adolph Jr. (R., Delaware) said Thursday after he was elected chairman of the board at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Adolph replaces former Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor (R., Chester), who retired from the legislature and the board in November.

The agency has come under public criticism in recent years for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on retreats at luxury resorts around the country.

It also has fought efforts by the Associated Press, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and Pittsburgh's WTAE-TV to obtain expense and other financial records. A state appellate court sided with the news agencies in November, but PHEAA has yet to release any records and is seeking to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

PHEAA said the records were not public because they contained trade secrets and personal information. The agency also maintained that the records were exempt under the state's Right-to-Know Law because some PHEAA board members are legislators.

PHEAA had agreed to release some documents early next week, but that was canceled late yesterday afternoon after the state Supreme Court granted the agency a temporary stay of the Commonwealth Court ruling ordering it to disclose the records.

Adolph has served on the board since December 2001. He told the Patriot-News for yesterday's issue that he had attended two retreats, which he preferred to describe as "work sessions" or "conferences."

"It's a chance to work on relationships," he said. "We realize that we are in a competitive business out here and . . . entertainment of clients is necessary and effective."

Asked whether the board would organize future retreats, he said: "We'll see what the board wants to do."