With an annual budget of better than $1 million and a task of supervising the athletics and activities of the state's 105 high schools and some 80,000-plus student participants, the Utah High School Activities Association recently has faced criticism over how it handles that role.
The Utah School Boards Association recently passed a resolution asking for a change in governance of the activities association. The boards want more input from local education leaders in planning activities.The High School Activities Association board of directors is overly influenced by coaches and others who are less focused on the academic mission of the schools, the School Boards Association says. A growing number of local educators are concerned with the amount of time students are out of school for activities and with the costs of activities in an era of tight education budgets.
Glen L. Beere, High School Activities Association executive director, said some of the criticism stems from misconceptions about his group. "They don't understand the association and they just look at it from an out-of-school perspective and not what it's doing for their son or daughter."
Currently, the High School Activities Association is governed by a legislative council consisting of 42 local school board members and a board of directors comprised of one principal from each of the state's 13 regions. While most of the association's actions are generated and proposed by the board of directors, the legislative council is supposed to set policy and give general direction to the association.
The School Boards Association recommends replacing the legislative council with a 17-member board of trustees. Each trustee would be a school board member or a superintendent, with 13 representing the 13 regions, and another four trustees representing the four school-size classifications (4A, 3A, 2A and 1A).
The present legislative council convenes only twice a year. The School Boards Association suggests that the smaller board of trustees meet a minimum of six times a year.
"It would be a more manageable, workable group," said Beere. The change would have to be approved by the legislative council and a majority of school boards, district superintendents and High School Activities Association member schools. If approved, the new system could be in effect by July 1.
Beere said the High School Activities Association receives no tax funding. It plans, supervises and administers competition in athletics and other activities such as drama, drill, speech, forensics and music.
In rural areas, high school activities are a focal point for the entire community. "Activities in these small communities represent the most visual activity in the community," said Beere.
The High School Activities Association is also facing a financial challenge - to make sure activities and athletics are cost-effective - and that each school and student has the opportunity to participate.
The association generates its funding from gate receipts at state tournaments, corporate sponsorship and $200-per-school membership fees. "None of the money comes from taxes, contrary to the beliefs of most people," Beere said.
The association is in the final year of a three-year, $650,000 contract with three corporate sponsors - Hardee's, Dairy Farmers of Utah and First Security Bank.
The association's trial marriage with the three firms made Utah one of the first few states to espouse corporate sponsorship as a means of combating rising costs.
The sponsorship money has helped cover the association's increasing expenses - for example, its catastrophic insurance premium more than doubled this year. Despite such increases, the association returned some $120,000 in budget surpluses to schools to fund their athletic- and activity-related expenses.
Perhaps the challenge that attracts the most attention - and criticism - is athletics and activities cutting into class time.
But Beere said state competition can only be scheduled when stadiums, athletic centers and other campus facilities are available. And while a multiday playoff - such as squeezing four rounds of basketball playoffs into four consecutive days - hampers class attendance, it helps keep travel and lodging costs to a minimum for teams coming from long distances.
Beere helped institute night football playoff games at Rice Stadium a couple of years ago to reduce class time missed by participants and fans; however, the daytime playoffs continue to outdraw the night games.