Every so often, I’ll peruse the monthly meeting calendar on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s website to see if there’s something worth writing about.

Here’s what is listed for March 29: 1A-3A Conference Reclassification Meeting.

Wait. What?

It was just 17 months ago that representatives from the three conferences got together and agreed to a new classification system. Their votes replaced the three-pronged criteria that didn’t even get the courtesy of a full school year before it was jettisoned by the AIA’s legislative council. Before that, classification was based on enrollment, the decades-long process that is sort of like the current classification but with some tweaks added.

Anybody else’s head spinning?

“Right now, our thing is we’d just like to leave it alone for a while and give it some breathing room,” AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said of the current classification model.

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Yeah, good luck with that. These days, school administrators have as much patience as the 16-year-olds they teach. Microwave popcorn cooks longer than classification alignments.

The latest request for reform comes from charter schools in the 1A-3A Conferences. They want to do away with the 33 percent split model that was voted on in September 2015. That vote placed the top 33 percent of charter and private schools in enrollment in 3A, the middle third in 2A and the bottom third in 1A.

Instead, starting with the 2018-19 school year, charter schools want to be classified purely by enrollment, as are public schools. One example of the proposed change: Had enrollment been the sole criteria, Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin would have been placed in 2A for this current two-year scheduling block rather than 3A.

In an email, Phoenix Horizon Honors Athletic Director Nate Agostini wrote, “The issue is simple: charter school athletes are public school athletes. None of the 25 charter school members of the AIA should be treated any differently than a district public school.”

“The current classification is a little bit of a raw deal,” added Benjamin Franklin Athletic Director Jeremy Strong. “Charter schools are public schools. You would be surprised by how many people do not know that. A lot of people think we are private schools, we charge tuition or turn away special needs kids, all of which is untrue. They are under the un-convincible assumption that charter schools recruit and all sorts of heinous things are going on.”

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OK, but if the current classification system was a “raw deal,” why was it approved in September 2015?

“It was kind of passed that way clandestinely,” Strong said.

That’s not how Snowflake Athletic Director Kevin Standerfer remembers it. He said that, for whatever reason, only 12 to 15 administrators showed up for the meetings to determine the classification model.

“When you hear people say they had no say in what was happening, that’s frustrating,” Standerfer said. “I don’t know why some schools didn’t have representatives there.”

Here’s the big picture: Charter schools are being caught up in the private school versus rural school debate. For years, rural programs have complained that smaller private schools in the Valley have a huge advantage in that they can attract kids from all over Maricopa County. That argument is now being applied to charter programs and a flash point seems to be Queen Creek American Leadership Academy, which became the first charter school to win a football state championship when it captured the 3A Conference title in November.

“Right now, what everybody is mad about is ALA,” Strong said. “But not all charter schools are created equal. Our school literally is sitting between eight athletic juggernauts (in the East Valley). People are not coming to our school to participate in athletics.”

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There’s no simple solution here. Charter schools can make a convincing argument that because they are public schools, their classification should be based solely on enrollment. Rural programs can counter with conviction that, like private schools, charters have a larger well of students to draw from.

Might the best course of action, though, be inaction? Rather than changing the classification model every two years in an attempt to make everyone happy – which is impossible – why not stick with a model for four years, examine its ramifications in terms of competitive equity, injury risk to athletes, etc. – and then decide whether change is needed.

“That’s not an unfair question,” Strong said.

“I’m not trying to create change,” Standerfer said. “I just want open discussion.”

So, talk about it. Exchange ideas. Debate. But remember: Giving something time to breathe, as Slemmer put it, isn’t a bad thing.

Reach Bordow at [email protected] or 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.


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