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Schools may face reclassifying

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Enrollment at Pinellas public schools has declined about 6 percent from last year, according to a survey of the schools.

It means some schools could field teams in lower classifications and compete in different districts.

It's reshuffling time again.

As the Florida High School Activities Association prepares for its annual meetings today and Monday in Gainesville, officials will look closely at enrollment figures, which will be compiled officially by the end of the week.

Every two years, the FHSAA reclassifies schools according to the number of students in grades 10-12. In 1990, the 89 largest schools, with enrollment of 1,335 and up, belonged to Class 5A in football. Schools with enrollments of 952 and up were designated 4A.

In sports other than football, the highest classification is 4A _ schools with 1,265 students.

But the dividing lines might change again.

"It's going to be interesting this year," said Ronald Davis, FHSAA commissioner. "If (some) schools seem to be losing enrollment, then most everybody else will be too.

"Normally, we try to keep the same number of schools within each classification," Davis said, referring to how the FHSAA will adjust to the lower enrollment.

He said the only figures he has seen this year have shown increases. But Pinellas and hurricane-ravaged Dade County were not included in the figures he said he briefly previewed.

For the first time since the 1970s, Pinellas County has produced insignificant increases in student numbers for grades K-12 _ two students overall.

There has been growth in the elementary schools, while the largest decline has been in the high schools, according to Pinellas school spokeswoman Marilyn Brown. Whether this is a statewide phenomenon will be discussed this weekend.

"We'll just have to wait and see how the numbers will shake out," Davis said.

There are some schools in Pinellas County already trembling a bit.

Countryside, a Class 5A, District 8 contender in football, has seen its numbers dwindle from 1,385 in 1991-92 to the present count of 1,268 _ far below the 5A cutoff determined two years ago.

Then there's Northeast, usually a mini-city in itself, which dropped from 1,666 to 1,380 students.

Meanwhile, Boca Ciega High has seen about a 150-student decrease since last year, causing acting athletic director and vice principal Allyn Ramker to wonder where all the students have gone.

"I really can't explain it," Ramker said. "I thought maybe they went to private schools, but I'm told that's not the case."

According to figures offered by registrars, Pinellas County's 10 private schools gained only 63 students combined this year.

Steve Price, acting athletic director at Dixie Hollins, has seen his enrollment plummet from 1,412 to 1,154. His theory? Blame it on the economy.

"The economy's slow, so fewer families than usual are moving in for jobs."

Price said he's not concerned with the possibility of going back to 4A, from which the Rebels came in 1990. "Right now we're busy with having a 5A season. We're not the only school that's down. For us to be down about 100, 150 isn't a big deal."

Even if it means changing classifications?

"Basically, in order to play in state (playoffs), we have to follow the guidelines. It really doesn't matter where we play," Price said.

"Right now I don't know how (the FHSAA is) going to split it up," Ramker said, wondering where Boca Ciega would fall. "I'd hate to go down to 3A like Lakewood _ there's just so much traveling and it takes away the rivalries."

The Lakewood football team now has to travel to south Florida farm country to play DeSoto, Hardee and Palmetto. Perhaps during the meetings this weekend, officials will adjust their districts too.

Boca Ciega is probably safe in 4A, but one Pinellas school is on the edge: Osceola, now resting uncomfortably in Class 4A. In 1990, the school had 978 students, last year 920, and now just 867. In 1990, the dividing line between 4A and 3A was 952, nowhere close to Osceola's 1992 numbers.

Head football coach George Palmer has directly felt the impact of the decline. He has a mere 28 players on his roster. Most play the entire game on offense and defense.

But two schools might be showing signs of increase.. St. Petersburg Catholic, a private school, gained 28 more students (it now has 230), which could qualify the Barons to play 2A football.

And though not necessarily important to this year's proceedings, Largo might change classifications in two years. In 1990, Largo dropped to 4A. Though it now has 1,230 students in grades 10-12, it's hard to ignore the overwhelming size of the freshman class _ 612, almost twice the size of this year's graduating class. If the class remains that size, Largo could become part of 5A in the future.