Mountlake Terrace’s Kendall Yackley pitches to an Ellensburg hitter during the 2A state baseball championship game on May 26, 2018, in Yakima. (TJ Mullinax / For The Herald)

Mountlake Terrace’s Kendall Yackley pitches to an Ellensburg hitter during the 2A state baseball championship game on May 26, 2018, in Yakima. (TJ Mullinax / For The Herald)

Monday’s WIAA vote could restructure current classification system

The proposed amendments are an attempt to find competitive balance and may affect local schools.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Representative Assembly gathers Monday in Renton for its 2019 Winter Coalition Meeting.

The assembly is scheduled to vote on two proposed amendments — two of which could have a major impact on the way high schools in the state are classified starting in the fall of 2020.

The first proposal establishes hard-line enrollment numbers for school classifications and allows the WIAA Executive Board to modify classification policies and procedures.

The second proposal is an attempt to bring competitive balance to low-income schools by using reduced lunch rates to decrease enrollment totals for schools that are 10 percent or more above the state average. The current average is 42.4 percent according to the 2017-2018 Office of Superintendent of Publication Instruction report.

Under the current system, the WIAA tries to distribute its 384 member schools evenly among the six classifications — 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A, 2B and 1B. Each classification holds roughly 17 percent of the WIAA’s total members. The system has been the standard since 2004.

If the first proposal is adopted, each school would be classified based on its enrollment numbers in grades 9-11 without regard to balancing the number of schools in each class. It would be a return to the system that was in place prior to 2004.

Numbers for the 2020-2024 classification cycle would be determined by a school’s average enrollment from January through May of the 2018-2019 school year, and from October and November of the 2019-2020 school year. The classifications would be Class 4A, 1,300 or more students; 3A, 900-1,299; 2A, 450-899; 1A, 225-449; 2B, 112-224; and 1B 1-111.

WIAA assistant executive director John Miller said the change would address two major concerns.

First, schools didn’t know which classification they were going to be in until the last minute, and, second, when a school decided to opt up to a higher classification, a larger school had to drop down. That resulted in a wider size disparity in the smaller classifications.

“With the current system nobody knows where the line is going to be until the last moment,” Miller said. “… That meant that schools had to make a decision (quickly) and then if they decided to opt up, another school (would be pushed down a class). So there was the jockeying with opt-ups. It made it real difficult for schools to plan when they didn’t know where they were going to be.”

When 12 North Puget Sound League schools opted up from 3A to 4A in 2016, it pushed Everett’s Cascade High School into unfamiliar territory.

“For the first time ever, I’m looking at Cascade, which has always been a 4A school, and suddenly they’re falling into the 3A ranks and we’re having to make a decision if we’re going to stay 3A or opt back up,” Everett School District athletics director Robert Polk said. “When we started seeing those impacts, this conversation really started to build more momentum.”

Cascade officials eventually decided to opt up, keeping the Bruins in Wesco 4A.

The disparity in the smaller classifications affected 2A Granite Falls, 1A Coupeville and 2B Darrington. They were three of 22 schools that had enrollment numbers less than half of their classifications largest school. Granite Falls, which was .12 students above the 2A-1A cutoff in the last round of classifications, petitioned to move down to 1A after its enrollment dipped. The WIAA approved the move in January of 2018.

The WIAA switched to the current format in 2004 because of the disparity between the numbers of schools in each classification and the impact it had on the 16-team state tournaments. At the time, 4A had nearly double the amount of schools as 2A, but each sent 16 teams to its respective state tournament.

In order to prevent the same scenario from happening in the future, the proposal to switch to fixed numbers includes a weighted system to determine the number of teams in each classification’s state tournaments. Here’s the breakdown: 85-plus schools, 24-team tournament; 69-84 schools, 20 teams; 53-68 schools, 16 teams; 37-52 schools, 12 teams; and 20-36 schools, eight teams. If a classification falls below 20 schools, it would combine with the class one level below or one level above, whichever has the fewest schools.

Polk said the “main concern” for 2A teams in District 1’s Northwest Conference is that state tournament berths in 2A may fall and decrease the district’s number of spots. District 1 contains 20 percent of the state’s 2A teams, including Lakewood, Mountlake Terrace, Archbishop Murphy and Cedarcrest.

Polk, the director of District 1, said if the number of state berths drop, district tournament sizes likely wouldn’t change.

“We haven’t really used the state berths as a driver for the size of our district tournaments,” Polk said. “We usually use the number of schools.”

If enrollment numbers hold around the area — and the amendment passes — a few schools are likely to change classifications.

According to enrollment numbers for grades 9-11 reported to the OSPI in October 2018, Mountlake Terrace reported 1,027 students and appears to be a lock to move up from 2A to 3A. Marysville Getchell reported 1,302 students, leaving it on the dividing line between 3A and 4A. A slight drop in enrollment could keep the Chargers in 3A.

Coupeville, a 1A school that lost a petition to move down to 2B in January of 2018, sits 17 students below the 2B maximum. And Darrington, a 2B school with 93 students, is 18 below the 1B maximum.

The second of the two amendments would give schools a 10-percent decrease in enrollment for every 10 percent they are above the reduced-lunch-rate average, with 40 percent being the maximum an enrollment can drop.

For example, a school with an enrollment of 1,000 students and a reduced lunch rate of 57 percent — 14.6 percent above the state average — would be given an official enrollment number of 900 for the 2020-2024 classification cycle.

Miller said that while costs for equipment, physicals and ASB cards can be covered by schools for students of lesser means, other factors often make athletic participation nearly impossible.

“What the schools are finding is there’s so many other factors that are playing into that like transportation for a young kid in high school. … Getting them to and from practice were burdens that some of those families just couldn’t bear,” Miller said. “They don’t have daycare for the younger children. The older children have to come home and take care of (their siblings). A lot of those factors were preventing (students) from having the opportunity to participate in schools that have high poverty. So the feeling was there’s a big segment in the population of those schools that can’t participate, and yet, they’re getting counted for their enrollment in classifications. That seemed somewhat unfair.”

Another factor is the access kids from more affluent schools have to training.

“When kids don’t have opportunities for rec programs and have extra coaching — and we’re seeing more and more kids specialize in sports and get the batting coach or the pitching coach or whatever it might be — the gap in athletic development and athletic success is getting wider and wider,” Polk said. “We’re just trying to make sure we give those kids a competitive opportunity.”

According to the 2017-18 OSPI report, the only Snohomish County schools with reduced-lunch rates 10 percent or more above the statewide average are Class 4A Mariner (54.0) and Class 1B Tulalip Heritage (77.3).

Mariner, one of the larger schools in the 4A classification (1,726 students grades 9-11 as of Oct. 1), wouldn’t receive enough of an enrollment decrease to move down, and Tulalip Heritage is already in the state’s smallest classification.

The amendment originally called for schools that are 10 percent or more below the state average for reduced lunches to receive an increase in their enrollment numbers, and for an automatic 30-percent enrollment increase for private schools. Those two stipulations were removed at the Classification Committee’s Oct. 16 meeting.

“That was a real sticking point because when you look at all the private schools across the state, every school is just a little bit different,” Polk said. “It ranges from religious affiliation, to the neighborhood it’s in, to a community private school. So when you go to compare a Lynden Christian to an Overlake School — they are vastly different.”

Miller said it didn’t seem right to penalize schools for being more affluent.

“Some schools are looking at it and saying, ‘Why am I being penalized?’” Miller said. “… The classification committee listened to that and said, ‘Yeah, we get that, but we do think we need to help those schools that are in communities of poverty.’”

Had that portion of the amendment survived, a handful of Snohomish County’s 3A schools would be looking at the possibility of being moved up to 4A.

“Really we started to look at, ‘What’s the purpose of this amendment,’” Polk said. “And the purpose is to try to give a hand up to the schools that are less affluent. … The purpose was not to handicap schools. I know that some of the schools or administrators expressed concern about having that language removed from the amendment, so that may come up again.”

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