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Updated: Sifting through Montana high school enrollments and reclassification

UPDATED: Libby voted this week to move from Class A to B.

The recent news that Southwestern A school Anaconda is, like its enrollment, dropping to Class B for athletics has generated a bit of discussion ’round these parts.

What are the enrollment restrictions for classifications in Montana? Who’s close to those limits and who could be on the move next?

Several other schools are on the verge, though not all have decided to pack their bags and move yet. Let’s take a look at the tape:

First, we’ll get a few details out of the way. We’ll start with classification enrollment boundaries, some good numbers to know.

Class AA  =  825 +

Class A  =  825 – 340

Class B  =  339 – 120

Class C  =  119    1

Next, some rules from the MHSA for reclassification:

  1. Any school that exceeds the maximum enrollment level by no more than 10 percent may remain at the lower classification.
  2. Schools may opt up to a higher classification despite enrollment.
  3. When a school moves into a classification, they will remain there for the next two years.
  4. Schools whose enrollment changes significantly in a 2-year peiord (i.e. 25 percent), will be placed into proper class by the MHSA Executive Board.
  5. MHSA recommendations for change are made based on a school’s average enrollment over the past two years.

OK, got it? Here’s how Montana’s four classifications break down using MHSA enrollment data from the most recent term available (Fall 2013-14). Now remember, any MHSA recommendations may also include the spring term, data that has not been released to us yet.

We can see that all 14 AA schools are well above the enrollment cutoff. Class AA is one of the stranger classifications because there is no upper limit for school size. So you can see that our three Missoula schools are seriously dwarfed by the giants from the other side of the state.

But what can you do? Class AA certainly can’t be split any further. Moving on.



Now Class A gives us some pretty clear potential for moving and shaking. We know Anaconda is headed for the door and Glendive (Dawson Country) had been recommended to do the same by the MHSA. Sounds like that won’t be happening anytime soon, though.

Private schools Billings Central and Butte Central are both in the opt-up package though they should be competing at Class B. Butte Central is waaay below the line for A schools, about 200 students short in fact. That little nugget makes the Maroons’ success at the classification all the more impressive.

At the upper end, Belgrade is peeking over the Class A cap. The school is still within that 10-percent boundary, though, and will be waiting a little longer before making any rash decisions that could lead to a hop up to the big leagues. Belgrade has grown by about 50 students in the last five years.

Columbia Falls, once a shoo-in for the next AA school. Has lost more than 100 in that same time span, though.

Libby, which has averaged 338.5 students for the last 2-year period, also drew an MHSA recommendation to move to Class B, a nudge the school has decided recently to accept.

Any and all changes will be made for the 2015-16 school year, so there’s still another year before any moves will take effect.



Class B serves a very wide range of school sizes. The most interesting prospect, especially to the western Montana area, involves Ronan. The Lake County school dropped from Class A to B just three years ago, but enrollment numbers are actually up there since that time.

No other school is too close to the top end of the range.

The other side has quite a few schools near dropping to Class C, though none is on the west end of the state. Plentywood has accepted the MHSA’s recommendation to move to Class C, but Forsyth, Lodge Grass and Lame Deer have all decided to stay in B for now.


Class C (you can ignore those two highlighted numbers; this graphic came from the MHSA website) is full of a wide range of schools enrollment-wise as well and that’s where we usually see the most co-ops formed.

Only Chinook has exceeded the max student body, but the school is petitioning for further inclusion at Class C.

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