Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 23, 2013

Dissension and fiscal woes beset the Girl Scouts

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — "Questioning authority is very much frowned upon," she said. "If anyone resisted them at any point, they said we just wanted to hold onto the past."

Among other consequences, the mergers affected the Girl Scouts' national pension plan, because many employees were added to it as an inducement to take early retirement.

One council, the Nashville-based Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, is suing to get out of the pension plan. The lawsuit contends the GSUSA added as many as 1,850 employees to the plan who hadn't contributed to it, leaving local councils with an unplanned-for liability.

The suit says the pension plan had a surplus of more than $150 million in 2007. It now has a deficit of about $347 million, according to GSUSA figures.

The GSUSA has filed a motion for the case to be dismissed.

It is also asking Congress to pass legislation that would provide relief by stretching out the timetable for local councils to pay into the pension plan. Without such relief, councils could face a 40 percent increase in pension expenses next year, and be forced into layoffs and program cuts, according to GSUSA.

Financial stress already has prompted many councils to consider selling off old summer camps, both to gain revenue and reduce maintenance costs.

In many states — including Iowa, Ohio, New York, Alabama and Missouri — the sell-off plans provoked intense debate. Pro-camp activists argue that camping is integral to the Girl Scout experience; local leaders contend that today's girls are less keen on camping than their predecessors.

"Camps will always be part of our mission," Chavez said. "But girls aren't living in the past — they're living in the future."

Chavez, 45, took over as the GSUSA's first Hispanic CEO after serving as chief executive of Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas. She's pleased by a 55 percent surge in the number of Hispanic Girl Scouts since 2000.

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