SCOPE considers changing hands

WARREN – Within weeks, SCOPE senior centers may change hands, passing into the control of a large nonprofit social service agency, according to SCOPE Executive Director Ralph Smith.

Smith said the local operation is “seriously talking” and working up a document with Ravenna-based Family and Community Services to become part of its operation.

Jody Klase, FCS director of business development, said they were approached by SCOPE about a possible asset purchase, which the organization has been known to do in the past.

Klase said the organization remains poised to help, though nothing has been finalized.

“They’re not giving us money. Well, basically they’re giving us a dollar,” Smith said.

He said the asset purchase isn’t so much buying SCOPE’s properties and equipment (its senior centers are all community-owned or rented) but that FCS would be buying their contracts with the county and any of their lease agreements.

“They are taking the assets, bringing us into their company and then they will decide to hire the employees, which of course, is pre-negotiated,” Smith said. “They are buying the option to be in this business and to preserve SCOPE.”

The payoff for SCOPE would come from what FCS is able to provide – including a $19 million grant operation and a human resources department. The organization is an umbrella for 60 programs in 13 counties and two states, most in northeast Ohio.

Smith said services would remain the same. FCS helps provide oversight and centralized services – behind-the-scenes changes, he said. Most of the current workers would come under the employment of FCS. The board would remain as advisers, continuing to help connect the organization to the community.

“It’ll be pretty much invisible,” Smith said. “If you’re looking for some real outward changes, there probably won’t be any.”

FCS is not unfamiliar to Warren. In 2012, Someplace Safe came under its control, and a few years prior, so did Valley Counseling Services – the latter through an asset purchase.

Smith said the SCOPE board has approved the change and is also familiar with the organization. In fact, he said last year they looked at the merger, but SCOPE’s financial state wasn’t enticing for Family and Community Services, calling it “more taking than giving.”

Over the past couple years, SCOPE has faced financial uncertainty. In September 2012, it was stripped of Medicaid funding when the Area Agency on Aging 11 removed SCOPE’s clients from the federally-funded PASSPORT program for in-home care services.

This forced them to lay off 53 employees and left them in debt to the state to a tune of $92,000 after doling out unemployment pay. Smith said they were able to pay off about $40,000 of it over the last year.

FCS would not be taking on their debt, Smith said, but they would be providing them with “breathing room” to better handle it.

In March, SCOPE requested funds from three of the six communities they served as a 20 percent match for funds they were requesting from the county’s Senior Levy.

Cortland, Lordstown and Champion all agreed to chip in a total of about $30,000, according to Smith. Other communities that house SCOPE centers were already providing financial assistance.

Nevertheless, Senior Services Levy Administrator Diane Drawl said SCOPE would not be receiving all of the funding it requested from the levy, in part due to the opening of a new senior center in McDonald and a reappropriation of funds for home-care services.

Messages left for Drawl concerning the asset purchase were not returned.

Klase said when donations are made to the organizations under FCS, they go to the specific organizations, while donations to FCS benefit the 60 programs they watch. While she said the length of discussion with SCOPE could vary, FCS is dedicated to providing seamless service for the nonprofits’ clientele that they oversee.

“We don’t want to leave an entire community vacant of senior services,” she said.