Metro-East News

Metro-east, St. Louis Boy Scout councils to vote on merger

Area boy and girl scouts raise a flag during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in St. Louis. Several hundred people turned out in downtown St. Louis to celebrate the moment the iconic monument was completed a half century ago.
Area boy and girl scouts raise a flag during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in St. Louis. Several hundred people turned out in downtown St. Louis to celebrate the moment the iconic monument was completed a half century ago. AP

The Boy Scout councils on both sides of the river are in the final stages of merging into one large council, affecting more than 65,000 Boy Scouts.

There are approximately 280 local councils chartered by the Boy Scouts of America, and now the two councils in the St. Louis region are considering a merger less than a decade after two Illinois councils merged. The Trails West and Okaw Valley councils merged in 2009, forming the Lewis & Clark Council, which covers most of the metro-east. It is the largest council in southern Illinois and includes 15 counties, including both Madison and St. Clair.

“We identified synergies equal to about one-fifth of our budget that can be diverted from overhead into direct program investments,” said Debra Aerne, co-chair of the merger evaluation committee on the Lewis & Clark side. “This can include items like increased scholarships for summer camp, or broader and better STEM programs. Leveraging the scale of the Greater St. Louis Area Council to further enable our local volunteers and staff can make an incredible difference in the quality of our programs. The higher the quality of our programs, the more potential scouts we'll be able to engage and retain in the program. Both sides view this as a win-win for the scouting program on both sides of the river.”

Lewis & Clark is the governing council for more than 19,000 Scouts in 328 troops on the Illinois side. It employs 23 staffers on a budget of $2.6 million per year.

The Greater St. Louis Area Council covers much of the metropolitan St. Louis region, with more than 47,000 Boy Scouts. It covers a territory as far as Cape Girardeau, Mo. with 77 staffers on a budget of $10.7 million.

After Lewis & Clark executive director Alicia Lifrak resigned in February, the United Way urged both councils to consider a merger. Four study committees reviewed field operations, properties, finances and administration, and committee members included Eagle Scouts, executive committee members and others who volunteer for the BSA.

Last week, the executive committees of both districts voted “overwhelmingly” to recommend the merger. On Wednesday, the voting members of each district will make their final decision in a special joint meeting.

According to documents on the Lewis & Clark site, no one would be laid off due to the merger, and the council members on both sides of the river will continue to serve. By consolidating administrative efforts, however, it is believed the council will save more than $400,000 in costs during the first year. Those resources could then go to grow Scouting in urban and rural areas, and camperships for low-income youth to participate in Scouting, officials said.

If approved, the merger would take effect on Jan. 1. 

Q: What would be the name of the new council?

A: They plan to keep the name of the Missouri council, with the argument that it already covers regions much further away from St. Louis than the metro-east. “Scouting is local and we believe that the Greater St. Louis Area Council name is recognizable to all community stakeholders that we depend upon for support, and accurately identifies our entire geography,” it read.

Q: What structural changes would take place?

A: Districts will remain in place to continue to serve local Scouting units. Each council is divided into districts, and there are two in the metro-east. The Cahokia Mounds district includes most of Madison County, including Edwardsville, Collinsville, Granite City, Highland and Troy. The St. Clair district includes most of St. Clair County, including Belleville, Dupo, East St. Louis, O’Fallon and Swansea. Council members will continue to serve, and no one is expected to be laid off. A “deeper bench” of professional staff will permit district leaders to “spend more time on their local responsibilities and less on council-level assignments,” according to the council documents.

“There are duplicate functions between two councils, so when we can reduce those duplications at the volunteer level,” said acting council executive Ben Blumenberg.

Q: What impact will this have on my Scout or troop?

A: Immediately, there should be little impact, according to Blumenberg. Scoutmasters and programs will remain in place. Within a short time, it is expected that leaders and troops will be able to see additional options for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming, training opportunities and a new and improved website. Long-term, there will be additional camp opportunities.

“Scouting is local. Scouts everywhere wear the same uniform, follow the same advancement program, and subscribe to the same Oath and Law,” the council documents read. “A merged council would give the Boy Scouts of America the ability to better serve all areas within the councils’ boundaries through stronger volunteer training programs and enhanced council activities.”

Q: What about the Belleville service center and Scout Shop?

A: Service centers and Scout Shops in Belleville, Herrin, St. Louis and Cape Girardeau will remain open, as well as the national flagship BSA Outfitters shop in Des Peres, Mo. “I would expect would have service centers for every part of the council,” Blumenberg said.

Q: What about the BSA camps?

A: The merged council would have eight camps, which leaders believe would be too many. A long-range master plan would be developed for better use of the merged council’s properties. This past year, Lewis & Clark created a “high-adventure” camp at Camp Sunnen, with Scouts participating in specialty camps on and off the property.

Meanwhile, the council has already requested permission from the national organization to maintain all three Order of the Arrow lodges.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald