LISD director of communications Veronica Castillon said on Friday that the district will not submit waivers to remain in Class 5A for the 2012-2014 athletic school years.
“(LISD Superintendent A. Marcus) Nelson thinks we’ll possibly be placed in 4A, which will have significant changes on who we play, what district we’re a member of and travel costs,” Castillon said.
Traditionally, LISD submits its enrollment numbers with a signed waiver in hand asking the UIL to assign it to the 5A classification so it can stay in the same district as the larger, local UISD schools.
At a Laredo Independent School District board committee meeting on Thursday night, Nelson spoke to the committee about the district’s UIL classification and realignment options for 2012-2014.
After notifying the district board of his decision not to submit waivers for inclusion at the 5A level, Nelson spent Friday contacting school principals and booster clubs to inform them of his decision.
“We had a feeling this was coming,” said UISD athletic director Bobby Cruz. “Our schools have just grown exponentially and the enrollment at LISD is pretty much the same, or decreasing a little bit.”
According to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, the enrollment of LISD’s three high schools is as follows: Martin 1,864, Cigarroa 1,584 and Nixon 2,003.
The current enrollment cutoff point between 4A and 5A is 2,065. Schools with more than that were assigned to 5A districts and schools with less, barring the signing of a waiver, were assigned to 4A.
That 2,065 cutoff figure was set in 2010 and, though it’s lower than the previous cutoff set in 2008, the bar between 4A and 5A is expected to be set higher when it’s announced in 2012.
“This last time is the second time in 30-something years that it actually went down,” said UIL Director of Athletics Mark Cousins. “It went from 2,085 to 2,065. Typically it goes up.”
Nobody will know the next cutoff number until it’s announced in February, but that’s not stopping people from guessing.
“I’m estimating (the next cutoff will be) about 2,105,” Cruz said. “If that’s the case, I think Nixon would be (LISD’s) biggest school and they wouldn’t meet the 5A numbers.”
Cousins said borderline schools are only moved up a level if they sign a waiver to do so.
Even if an LISD school’s enrollment is one less than the cutoff point, the school will be kept at the 4A level unless a waiver is signed.
The power to choose whether or not to sign a waiver is solely in LISD’s hands, but the power doesn’t come without risk.
While the dividing line between 4A and 5A is almost certainly expected to increase, there is a remote chance it could instead go down or hold roughly steady.
If Nixon’s attendance increases significantly enough, the Mustangs could find themselves separated from Martin and Cigarroa.
This is, however, highly unlikely, according to insiders.
Costs of change
If LISD opts to play at the 4A level, UISD will be equally affected as its four schools would also have to find membership in a new district with distant schools.
In February 2010, when the Laredo schools were reunified in a single district after two years of playing apart, Cruz said having all seven local schools in the same district was a significant money-saver.
This year, Cruz thinks the costs of separation may not be as high as before.
“I don’t look for it to be as much (as last time),” he said. “Knowing our coaches, they’ll try to schedule games with LISD to make up for those three district games we’re losing. I think, in the end, (costs) will pretty much stay the same.”
Cruz said the two most likely destinations for his district’s schools were both good ones.
“If LISD leaves, one scenario that’s been talked about is UIL will leave (29-5A) alone with us, the Eagle Pass schools and Del Rio,” he said. “The other scenario that could happen is the two Eagle Passes and Del Rio could move into District 28-5A in San Antonio and then we’d gain (Corpus Christi) King and (Corpus Christi) Carroll and be a six-team district.
“Those are the two popular things floating around up there, but who knows.”
Costs to both districts could be further mitigated by continuing to compete against each other in non-district play, but this, too, is not a guarantee.
“We always encourage (local play), but sometimes the football coaches already know who they want to play and they have friends who they’d like to play and programs they’d like to play,” Cruz said. “We don’t mandate here at UISD, but we encourage. We’d say, ‘If we can and they’re willing and you’re willing, let’s set it up.’
“In all sports.”
Realignment of districts and classes often becomes a political issue for everyone involved.
Cruz said UISD will not, however, politicize LISD’s decision process.
“We’re not going to put any pressure on them,” he said. “At the end of the day, (LISD athletic director) Rene (Ramirez) and I will get together and encourage our coaches to keep the inner city games going as much as they can. We’ll still have our tournaments, (such as) Border Olympics, and LISD will still participate.
“The positive about this is, hopefully, you’ll see more Laredo teams in the playoffs. If they go 4A, I’m sure they’ll have one, two maybe all three teams in the playoffs and we (UISD) will have one, two, maybe three –hopefully all four – teams in the playoffs, and I think that will be a big bonus for Laredo. That’s the silver lining.”
Even if someone wanted to apply pressure on the outcome of the coming wave of realignment, their window to do so is rapidly closing.
Once LISD’s paperwork is submitted on Thursday, the matter will solely be in hands of the UIL.
The chips will fall where they may.
“(District boundary drawing is) done by UIL staff in accordance with the policies voted on and put in place by our legislative council,” Cousins said. “The basic criteria are geography and certain restriction on school districts. The front page of the UIL website (www.UILtexas.org) has the current reclassification policies posted.”
And the UIL bows to no one.
“We’re not allowed to take (district membership) requests,” Cousins said. “They can make them, but we’re not allowed to consider them.”