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A legislative panel has endorsed a bill intended to step up the state school board's scrutiny of the Utah High School Activities Association.

However, the Education Interim Committee has gutted a portion of the bill that would have required the state school board to approve rules, policies, schedules or procedures adopted by the Utah High School Activities Association.Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the bill was drafted amid growing concerns about extracurricular activities and travel cutting into academic time, as well as the cost of activity travel.

Concerns about oversight also prompted the legislation, Stephenson said. "There should be an elected body they answer to," he said during the committee's meeting on Wednesday.

Ultimately, Stephenson agreed to amend the bill, taking out language that called for more stringent supervision. "Maybe we should take baby steps at first," Stephenson conceded.

Even with the amendment, Stephenson said the bill sends a "subtle signal to the Utah High School Activities Association that we support the state Board of Education's authority."

State Superintendent Scott Bean said the state school board wants to establish rules to govern students' travel and time in school. "I think they have interest in that. (Interest) in running the activities association? No," Bean said.

The committee forwarded the proposal to 1997 Legislature as a "committee bill." That gives it priority status because it has been debated in a public hearing.

Kirk Wright, president of the UHSAA's board of trustees, said the association's directors - who include locally elected school board members, superintendents and high school principals - share lawmakers' and educators' concerns about activities cutting into academic time.

The catalyst of Stephenson's bill, Wright said, was a recent report to legislators on pupil transportation.

The report singled out the Washington School District, which last year racked up more than 745,000 miles on its school buses for activity travel alone. The district's classification within the UHSAA required it to compete against schools along the Wasatch Front and in Utah County.

"I think that situation has been corrected as a result of the most recent realignment. Essentially, there will be no excessive travel in the Washington School District that's required by the Utah High School Activities Association," Wright said.

Regardless of its classification in the UHSAA, Wright said local school boards make travel decisions, particularly on out-of-state travel. Wright reminded lawmakers that students miss school for activities other than those covered under the association's umbrella.

Presently, the UHSAA oversees nine sports each for high school boys and girls, including baseball, basketball, cross country, drill team, football, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball, wrestling and one coed sport, golf.