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Sweeping changes in Oregon high school sports appear to be coming, with the first step likely to be taken next Monday when the Oregon State Activities Association's delegate assembly votes on whether to change how the OSAA computes enrollment figures for each full member school.
While changes in the process may seem insignificant to most, that's certainly not the take for private school administrators who fear they may be unfairly targeted if only because they've had more successful programs than their public-school peers.
The OSAA's Boundary/Non-Boundary Committee has recommended to its Executive Board that the average daily membership (ADM) figure should include counting all students that actually participate for a school, factoring in socioeconomic status through use of free and reduced lunch figures, and a multiplier for schools that don't have an established attendance boundary or that extend beyond an established attendance boundary through open enrollment.
For public schools, the new ADM figures likely would increase slightly once homeschooled students and others who participate for their sports teams are factored into total enrollment. The figures could also decrease through a socioeconomic (SES) factor that takes into account the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches.
For private schools, St. Mary's Athletic Director James Joy said Monday reduction possibilities don't extend beyond the public schools even if students in the private schools are receiving some form of financial aid tuition waiver or a free or reduced lunch.
The biggest issue at play is the proposed multiplier that helps determine new ADM figures. For public schools without open enrollment you would multiply by 1 to get the ADM figure. The multiplier is 1.05 for public charter schools and public schools with open enrollment, and 1.25 for private schools.
"From our side of it, that's huge," said Joy, whose school competes in the Class 3A Southern Cascade Hybrid. "That would put us in the Skyline Conference if all the other factors like six classifications and the cutoff points were to remain the same."
Current classification guidelines, determined by ADM figures, require those between 400 and 869 to be placed at the 4A level. This year's ADM for St. Mary's stands at 320, and use of the 1.25 multiplier puts their revised ADM figure at 400.
"If you look at the number of kids who are actually in our school being 320 and then you put us in a district where the biggest school is Phoenix with 730," said Joy, "a move like that would be pretty impactful for our school."
Across town at Medford's other Class 3A private institution, Cascade Christian would not see a change in its classification, all things being equal, due to its 273 students moving the ADM figure to 341.3, which is within the current 3A range (226-399).
That doesn't mean Challengers AD Dave Fennell is ambivalent about the proposed change; quite the opposite in fact. Fennell has been a leader among the private school movement that is openly opposing the change, especially with a multiplier in place.
"Once you have a multiplier in place at any level, now you've won the battle and it's in," said Fennell. "What's to stop them in four years, in order to get what they want, from saying now we're looking at a multiplier close to 2?"
"The last proposal a lot of us private school ADs saw was 1.10," added Fennell, "and even if you disagreed with the process of using a multiplier you could understand the logical jump since charter schools and public schools with open enrollment were at 1.05. Then when you look at the last proposal, it came out at 1.25 and it's like where in the world did this come from?"
After crunching the numbers with the 1.25 multiplier, Joy said the only private schools that would move up to the 4A level would be St. Mary's and Valley Catholic and the only 2A school to jump to the 3A level would be Portland Christian. A great deal of movement, however, would occur at the 1A level, which has the most private schools, with seven of them moving up — although Rogue Valley Adventist isn't one of them.
It's been suggested that the buzz for such a change stemmed from the apparent edge on the playing field enjoyed each year by private schools like Jesuit, Central Catholic and Marist, but more likely it's smaller private schools supporting the ADM calculations. After all, Jesuit and Central Catholic already play in the state's largest classification so any multiplier is a wash, and Marist is already playing one level above (5A) its true ADM figure (4A).
So why make the change at all? Possibly because at the 3A level last year, the state quarterfinalists in volleyball (four of eight), boys basketball (six of eight) and girls basketball (five of eight) were dominated by private institutions even though there are twice as many public schools at that level.
That leads to the notion that there's more to this move than meets the eye, and that a great deal more movement among the schools can be expected down the road when the ADM figures are manipulated to determine cutoff points and if a move to a five-classification system is adopted for the next time block.
Ever since moving to a six-classification system, there has been an outcry that everything is too spread out and five classes might make for a better system statewide. A final proposal for reclassification isn't due until next fall, approximately one month after the new ADM figures would take effect if the delegates approve the proposal in next Monday's vote.
Fennell said a peek at one five-classification proposal puts all the private schools at the 3A level into one of two leagues out of seven overall, greatly reducing the possibility of as many private schools advancing to the state playoffs.
"I don't want to pin things on the OSAA," said Fennell, "because they do what the schools vote on and I think they're doing a good job and they're in a tough spot, too, but how the multipliers would affect St. Mary's or us and the other private schools is too great. It's going to be interesting to see how it all kind of shakes out."
An appeal to the amendment has been made to at least lower the private school multiplier from 1.25 to 1.10, which would not be a victory but would be easier to swallow for some private schools, and it will be discussed prior to next Monday's vote. Either way, Joy and Fennell seem resigned to the notion that the ADM proposal will pass in some form or another.
"If you look around the committee representation between public and private, it doesn't really bode well," said Fennell. "Hopefully everybody's being proactive in the process, though. I definitely have encouraged a lot of people to send in a letter and contact the OSAA and the committee with their concerns. Now's the time for them to hear our voice because we'll have nobody to blame than ourselves if we don't take the time now and do our part to operate within the system."
As Fennell sees it, putting the private schools at a 1.25 multiplier doesn't make sense against an open enrollment school that will work with a 1.05 multiplier given that both can go out of boundary areas. Those public schools can also provide free admission — whereas attending a private school carries a tuition fee with no tax breaks — and they can benefit from a reduction on their ADM figures due to SES factors.
It's worth noting that the OSAA only operates on behalf of its member institutions and does not play a specific role in the recommendation process or in the voting by its delegate assembly. The OSAA merely oversees the group and ensures that the schools are following the guidelines they have chosen to adopt.
"I'm sure whatever the vote is, you're going to see people up in arms and upset if the multiplier goes in and if it doesn't go you'll see the same thing," said Fennell. "This is a public-private issue that's been simmering for quite some time."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry