To better position the New Birth of Freedom Council to provide quality service to our units, especially when considering the current financial headwinds and a decline in the number of total units over the past several years, the Council’s Executive Committee, at its meeting on July 17, approved a plan that will reduce the number of districts in the Council from six to five. Three current districts (Indian Rock, Pioneer and Susquehanna Trail) will be impacted as a result of this action.
To better understand the rationale for this decision, please take a few minutes to review the detailed information provided below.
In 2012, the Council adopted the current six “traditional” districts at the conclusion of a careful study process. Since that time, the Boy Scouts of America has modified its membership standards several times, including the recent decisions to allow girls to participate in “Family Scouting” programs in Cub Scouts and opportunities for all-girl troops under the “Scouts BSA” name beginning in 2019. Additionally, the announcement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that they will be discontinuing the use of BSA program at the conclusion of 2019 will have a noticeable impact on the Council’s membership (about 4% of current youth members are registered in LDS chartered units. LDS units currently account for 7.6% of the total units in the Council.)
Since 2012, the number of units in the Council has declined (for the purpose of this discussion, those units which are part of the Scoutreach and STEM/Exploring service areas are not being considered). From 2012-18, there has been a net loss of 74 units in the Council’s six traditional districts. When the remaining LDS chartered units are dropped at the end of 2019, another 24 units will be lost.
Assuming no new additional units are organized, and all current units are rechartered (both are acknowledged to be unlikely assumptions), the Council’s districts would range from a high of 62 units in Keystone Capital down to a low of 36 units in Indian Rock District. Compared to 2012 after redistricting, the largest district (Keystone Capital) had 73 units, while Susquehanna Trail was the smallest with 60 units.
Along with the drop in the number of units, the Council experienced a net operating loss of more than $135,000 in 2017, the first operating loss since the merger creating the Council in 2010. This 2017 loss was fueled by several key factors – a reduced allocation from the United Way of the Capital Region (UWCR) as the Council is one of several agencies being “transitioned” out of funding by UWCR, a sharp decline in Boy Scout summer camp attendance at Tuckahoe and a further significant decline in net proceeds from the fall popcorn and nuts sale.
To this point in 2018, the Council’s operating budget remains under significant pressure to avoid a second consecutive annual deficit. While Boy Scout summer camp attendance at Tuckahoe has rebounded, shortfalls in budgeted Friends of Scouting contributions, the continuing loss of UWCR allocated dollars, and the disappointing results from the Camp Card sale this spring have created a $60,000 shortfall against budget through the end of May.
These twin factors, fewer units in the Council and ongoing financial pressures, created the need for a conversation regarding the right number of districts in the Council to take place at this time.
Important Considerations When Establishing Districts
The 2012 study process was governed by several “guiding principles,” including:
- Evenly balance the number of Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews in each district. While the number of youth members in a given district was a factor to be considered, the number of units was a more important consideration because the workload of district volunteers (commissioners and district committee) and District Executives are defined more by the number of units they serve than by the number of Scouts in each unit.
- The committee established a consensus that the “target” size for a district in the Council would be 60-70 units. A district of this size would be a manageable workload for a District Executive and could also be effectively supported by the district commissioner staff and district committee.
- The committee also sought to eliminate school districts that were “split” in different BSA districts.
- Another factor that was considered was the available pool of adult volunteers to potentially serve at the district level. More districts in the Council equates to more volunteers that are needed for leadership positions within those districts. Fewer districts don’t stretch limited volunteer resources as much.
Other factors that were considered:
- Geography – features such as limited river crossings, mountains and road networks.
- While not a priority, the committee also considered way in which realignments could serve to better integrate the two legacy councils.
Here in 2018, examining current district boundaries and considering potential realignment using a number of these “guiding principles” continues to make practical sense.
Units by District
It is somewhat striking to review the decline in the number of units in the Council from the time when district realignment was done in 2012, to our current state, and the anticipated loss of LDS chartered units at the end of 2019.
LDS unit losses, first in 2017 (older youth programs) and those forthcoming in 2019, have been a factor in recent declines, especially for some districts.
Faced with the reality of limited resources (financial and other), the Council’s volunteer and professional leadership decided to open a review of our current staffing models, for both the professional and support staffs. The district realignment discussion will limit its focus to field staff positions and will not include potential changes in the number of positions and responsibilities of our support staff.
This district realignment plan reduces the number of districts in the Council from six to five. The Scoutreach and Exploring/STEM programs provided by the Council are not impacted by this realignment.
In this plan, the current Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock Districts will become a single district, with the exception of those units in the West Shore School District, which are being moved to Pioneer District.
This plan does address a number of concerns and opportunities:
- Splitting a school district between two BSA districts is avoided
- A number of units located in the West Shore School District have continued to participate in events and activities in the Pioneer District, despite having been administratively located in Susquehanna Trail.
- Interstate 83 facilitates convenient north-south travel throughout the proposed new district.
- Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock currently have roundtables, district committee and commissioner staff meetings following the same calendar.
- Roundtables and other meetings could be scheduled in the York area with minimal impact on driving times for those volunteers in the proposed new district.
- Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock districts have current plans to conduct joint activities in the year ahead and have successfully partnered in the past without incident or conflict.
- The opportunity to combine commissioner and district committee staff in the two current districts will ease some of the pressure currently felt in recruiting volunteers to fill these roles in Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock.
How Would This Realignment Impact Total Units in Each District?
The West Shore School District currently (as of 6/30/18) includes 18 units, with a total of 309 youth members. The units are:
- Packs (8) – 54 (Camp Hill), 63, 192, 198, 270, 277, 312, 442
- Troops (10) – 54 (Camp Hill), 55, 59, 82, 192, 198, 269, 277, 284, 312
Transferring these West Shore units to Pioneer District and combining the remaining units from Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock districts into a new district creates the following unit counts (using 6/30/18 units). Please keep in mind that the post-LDS (12/31/19) assumes that no units are organized and that no current units drop (both are unlikely scenarios).
Looking ahead, there is no reliable means of forecasting the impact of adding girls and young women to this conversation. As we look forward to this upcoming fall, it appears at this point that a majority of current Cub Scout packs have declined to include both boy and girl dens in their plans for the 2018-19 Scouting year. It is unclear how many new packs (family or all girl dens) can be organized come this fall. The same can be said for the number of girl troops that will be organized to begin operation next winter.
That being said, the opportunity for an increasing number of youth to begin participating in our programs in the near future is quite high. In addition to welcoming girls and young women to our programs and the opportunity they represent to create an upswing in our membership, having Lion Scouts (kindergarten-age youth) in every pack (Lions is no longer a pilot program) is another important element to fueling future growth. This new structure will allow us to better accomodate serving more youth and families over the next several years through the strength and unification it provides.
Field Staff Structure
In implementing this plan, the Council will employ District Directors (experienced professionals) in Pioneer, Keystone Capital and the Indian Rock/Susquehanna Trail districts, with entry-level District Executives in Conococheague and Battlefield districts. Each of the District Directors will have supervisory responsibilities for another professional staff member (one District Director will serve as staff leader for our Scoutreach professional), in addition to performing direct service to their assigned district.
This scenario is by no means perfect but is a reality check after the changes that have occurred over the past five years in the number of units in the Council and our current financial situation. While the Council will have to continue to work diligently to improve all current revenue streams and hopefully develop new sources, we need to be realistic in our financial planning and not rely “on a hope and a prayer.” It is no small task to overcome the loss of our former annual allocation ($88,116 in 2014) from the United Way of the Capital Region (even as that loss is spread over a four-year transition period). UWCR’s allocation to the Council in 2018 will be $30,831, and estimated to be $9,600 in 2019 (the final year the Council will receive any allocation from UWCR).
- It is recommended that the new district choose its own name. If a new name is selected, it should follow the current practice of drawing from the historic heritage of the south-central PA area. It is not mandated that a new name be chosen.
- To assemble the best possible commissioner staff and district committee, it is recommended that the current volunteer leadership of the Susquehanna Trail and Indian Rock districts work collaboratively to identify which volunteers should serve in the various district committee and commissioner roles.
- It is further recommended that the new district should quickly review all planned activities, events and meetings for both current districts and create a consolidated calendar for the new district. It is not mandated that all currently-planned activities and events be consolidated for 2018-19, but all regular district meetings (roundtables, district commissioner, district committee) are to be combined as soon as possible. If the new district wishes to continue both of current Cub Day Camps, both of which are successful, that is perfectly acceptable.
Following an information meeting on July 25 for district-level volunteers from Indian Rock and Susquehanna Trail districts, immediate past Council President Mike Summers (who provided volunteer leadership in this redistricting process in both 2012 and 2018) said, “I am impressed with our volunteers not only recognizing the issues we face, but also their willingness to be part of the solution to rebuild our structure and membership to serve the area’s youth. This cannot be understated – the new district is critical to the future and success of our Council. I would hope that it works hard to integrate the existing volunteers; then builds out a robust, full committee and eventually leads in how a district should function. Change is opportunity to get better and stronger.”