June 24, 2013

Girl Scouts of the USA facing financial woes, leadership rifts

The organization's national leaders and critics all cite their devotion to scouting.

By DAVID CRARY The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Wrapped in boxes emptied from earlier cookie sales, Girl Scouts from Troop 20337 in Eugene, Ore., fan out on the University of Oregon campus in search of more cookie customers. One year after the organization celebrated its 100th anniversary, even the proceeds of cookie sales are being questioned as to what they support.

The Associated Press

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Maria Chavez

Also refusing to merge was the Farthest North Girl Scout Council in Fairbanks, led by Nelles. She says she's been ostracized by the national office.

"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.

The Girl Scouts note that many youth organizations have been losing members, for a variety of reasons. The Boy Scouts of America's youth membership declined from 3.3 million in 2002 to about 2.6 million last year.

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