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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2004

Pike-Delta-York: Fitness plan fizzles because of flabby finances

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DELTA - Plans to link up with the National School Fitness Foundation for a fitness center at the Pike-Delta-York High School have been abandoned because the foundation is having some legal and financial difficulties, Superintendent Russ Griggs said.

The foundation is a Utah-based nonprofit organization that purports to provide schools with a physical fitness program that includes equipment, supplies, and faculty training through its Leadership in Fitness Training America Program.

The foundation recently announced that, because of legal problems, it can't make monthly payments to hundreds of U.S. school districts that were expecting reimbursement for the fitness equipment.

The charity is under investigation by three state agencies in Minnesota, including the attorney general's office.

In addition, the foundation's statement says that the contributions have been postponed because of rapidly depleting revenue streams and donations.

In Ohio, the attorney general's office is assessing whether the state's charitable trust act has been violated by the foundation, said Michelle Gatchell, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro's office. Because of state law, she cannot discuss such matters until litigation is actually filed, she said.

According to Stacey Reed, communications coordinator for the foundation, more than 600 schools in 20 states have access to the program, which costs a total of about $113,000 for elementary schools and about $220,000 for secondary schools.

School districts pay up front for the entire cost of the program with many districts entering into three-year lease-purchase agreements with local banks to obtain funds for the program.

Under the arrangement, the foundation agrees to make monthly "charitable contribitions" to the schools equal to the districts' lease-purchase agreement.

However, there is no guarantee that the foundation will make the contributions. If the

payments stop, the schools are liable for paying for the cost of the program, including the equipment, officials said.

Mr. Griggs was in the process of checking on the foundation, including talking with officials in Toledo area schools where fitness centers have been set up as part of the fitness program, when he learned that payments to school districts have been suspended.

"We do not want to deal with someone having that kind of difficulty," said Mr. Griggs. "We hope to be able to do this on our own. It would take longer, but we feel the concept is good."

The fitness center, he said, would help encourage people to use the equipment to improve their physical condition. PDY officials will look into the possibility of relocating the weight room and adding more equipment, he said. That area could be used as a resource for the physical education department, and possibly it could be expanded into a fitness center concept, he said.

Meantime, some schools are scrambling to figure out what to do now that the foundation has suspended payments.

School districts are being encouraged to take a proactive approach to supporting the fitness program, such as by seeking donations from the community and through fund-raising efforts, according to information provided by Mrs. Reed.

The foundation's official statement says that the foundation "has done nothing wrong and we believe strongly that the foundation will weather the enormous disruption and expense of this investigation. We believe that we will emerge as a stronger organization as a result."

Contact Janet Romaker at:

jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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