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SALT LAKE CITY -- The creation of a 3AA high school football classification has led to increased costs for Utah schools, including more than $17,500 in projected travel expenses at Payson High School between now and 2015, according to an audit released Tuesday.
The audit, prepared by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General, states that travel costs for all 3AA schools and most 3A schools have increased since a sixth football classification was created in 2012. In total, schools whose football teams compete in the 3AA classification will pay an additional $57,180 in travel expenses between 2013 and 2015, a regional increase of 72 percent compared to 2011-2013.
Audit supervisor David Gibson said the increase applies only to inter-region games, since schools have autonomy to schedule preseason matches.
"They decide who they're going to play out of region," he said. "The High School Activities Association wants them to schedule schools that are closer to them to help mitigate their costs."
The effect at Payson High School is estimated to be a 477 percent increase in miles traveled to games and a 324 percent increase in travel time, according to the audit. Gibson described Payson as an "outlier" among 3AA schools because the realignment requires the central Utah team to travel to St. George and southern Utah for football games.
Uintah High School was estimated to see an increase of $8,153 in travel costs between 2013 and 2015, with Bear River and Ben Lomond high schools seeing a $3,259 bump and several schools facing increases between $2,000 and $3,000.
Lana Hiskey, Nebo School District spokeswoman, confirmed that Payson High School officials are anticipating an increase in travel expenses as a result of the classification change.
She said travel costs for athletics are funded through a budget line item and are subsidized by admissions at events. With the audit reporting an anticipated increase in costs, she said it is not yet clear to what degree Payson High School would be able to absorb an increase in travel expenses.
"It's definently a burden because of bus travel," she said. "Traveling is one of our areas where we are always concerned about funds."
Football is currently the only high school sport divided into six classifications. Gibson said that if a sixth classification were added to other activities, a similar spike in transportation costs could be expected.
The audit notes that 16 of the 21 schools classified as 2A or 1A in football saw decreases in transportation costs, including Grand, Kanab and North Summit high schools, which each saw more than $5,000 in savings.
Several recommendations were listed in the audit, including that the UHSAA improve documentation of polices and procedures, that travel cost and travel time be calculated when determining region placement, and that policies be developed to allow schools to petition their region placement.
The audit also reviewed the process by which student-athletes apply for a school transfer. The recommendations include that parents be given detailed information when an application is denied in the event that they choose to appeal.
"When an application is denied, a lot of times parents didn't know exactly why it was denied," Gibson said. "When it is denied, they should alert the parents."