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Big changes could be coming for SCHSL realignment

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By Travis Jenkins

The realignment process undergone by the South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) every two years may become a lot simpler and much less contentious.

A number of constitutional and by-law related changes have been proposed to the league by member schools. One of those, which comes from Greenville High School, deals with realignment, the process of grouping the state’s schools into large athletic classes and smaller athletic regions based on enrollment size and proximity. Currently, league staff is responsible for dividing member schools into five classifications using 135-day enrollment numbers as their guide. The classifications do not have to be and are not currently balanced, schools that fall within 50 students of the arbitrary cut-offs for each class (at the top of bottom end) can be moved up or down as needed to fill regions and schools can appeal their placement in a particular region or classification. Union County successfully petitioned to move from the AAAA region they were originally placed in down to a AAA region for the current realignment (a lawsuit by other districts over that move remains pending). Greenville High’s plan lays out a precise prescription for future realignment.

“The schools will be divided among classifications as follows based entirely on school enrollment count: Total number of member schools will be determined and then divided by five to determine the number of schools in each classification. (Example: if there are 200 member schools, each class will have 40 schools). If that year the total number is not divisible evenly by five, (Class) A will be increased in number by one. If needed, AA will also be increased in number by one etc,” the proposal says.

If two schools have the same number of students and are at a cutoff point, both will play down in class for that realignment period. Once the league prepares a list showing which schools are in which class, schools have two weeks to “submit requests” to the classification’s executive committee for consideration. If a school requests that it be allowed to play up in classification (which happens on rare occasions) and that request is granted, the current smallest school in the class automatically has the option to move down in class to keep the numbers even. Once classes are finalized, SCHSL staff will meet with the executive committee of each class to “provide a draft proposal of region assignment and upper/lower state divide.” Each class’s executive committee, assisted by the league, will determine final school placement within the regions “to the extent necessary in their judgment to take into account travel and region size.” At that point, a reclassification draft will be sent to all member schools and district and two weeks allowed for comment and requests of adjustment. After the two weeks expire, the executive committee for each class will finalize realignment and no further appeals will be heard.

Additionally, the proposal calls for the use of 45-day enrollment numbers and for only students in grades nine through 11 to be counted. This is done “to have schools size as closely reflect the next two year’s projected size as possible for each school.” There has been a complaint for years from schools that counting this year’s senior class to help determine realignment for the following two years is nonsensical, since those students will no longer be in school by that time.

The listed rationale for the overall proposal includes that the process “allows for classes to be determined in a completely unbiased format.”

If the proposal had been in place for the currently-in-use realignment plan, AAA, AAAA and AAAAA would have had 43 schools each, with Class A and AA having 44 apiece. It would not have changed the classification of any of Chester County’s three high schools. Greenville High offered a separate proposal that would remove the executive committee of the SCHSL from appeals involving classification or region placement, leaving them to rule mainly on discipline and hardship cases.

“The schools are the ones that are most directly affected by changes to a reclassification/realignment plan. They have elected a classification executive committee to address these matters. The change allows the classification(s) executive committee(s) decisions about reclassification/realignment to be the final level of appeal.

Other proposals call for major sea changes in the realignment process as well. Whale Branch High School has offered a plan that calls for the use of 45-day enrollment numbers of students enrolled in grades 9-11 instead of 9-12 to “more accurately reflect the growth of a member school one year from realignment and this will allow schools to be classified properly with like-sized member schools.” They also want realignment done every four years instead of every two, with a built-in provision that the realignment plan can be modified after two years if any school has it’s student population increase or decrease by 20 percent. In that case “it will be moved to the appropriate class based on its new number.” A proposal offered by dozens of school districts (including the Chester County School District) calls for the same change in terms of 45-day numbers and the counting of students in grades nine through 11. On top of that it calls for the phrase “the membership will be divided into a minimum of three classifications” to be replaced with “the membership will be divided into a minimum of three classifications and a maximum of six.”

It appears many of the state’s school superintendents want to be more involved in the decision-making process. Another proposal backed by dozens of districts (again, including Chester) deals with delegates to the legislative assembly. Currently, each class has one delegate from each region. The proposal calls for the following additional language…

“At least one-third of the delegates in each classification must be superintendents or superintendent’s designee to include assistant superintendent or district athletic director.

The rationale listed is “while the executive committee is considered the most visible authority group of the membership, the actual power of the membership resides within the legislative assembly. The legislative assembly consists of delegates selected by each region. Superintendents wishing to have an impact on the workings of the league, should seek positions as delegates of the legislative assembly…this position of legislative delegate gives the superintendent a front seat in helping to proactively dictate the direction of the league and its workings.”

That same large group of superintendents wants changes in how the executive committee is constructed. Currently, “up to five members at-large, representing superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals may be appointed by the executive committee to insure gender, geographical, ethnic, private schools and charter schools representation.” The proposal would add “up to three of the at-large members will be selected by the S.C. Association of School Administrators.”

The proposals will be taken up in a few months.