National Sports Academy back from the brink
LAKE PLACID – The National Sports Academy, which has trained and educated 18 Olympians in its 35-year history, will remain open for the 2012-13 school year and beyond. That news followed weeks of hard work by parents, faculty and community leaders to overhaul the school’s finances and establish a sustainable business plan for the future.
In a statement provided to the Enterprise, school officials said a “successful recapitalization and business plan” was completed earlier this week. The plan will keep the school open this year and into the future, and all academic and athletic programs will remain in place. As part of the restructuring, Academic Dean Kim Dow will take over as acting head of school, and three new faces – Brett West, John Peracchio and Don Simkin – will replace the outgoing Board of Trustees members who agreed to resign as part of the restructuring.
“National Sports Academy is a remarkable school which plays an important role in the town of Lake Placid and holds a distinctive niche among New York State independent schools,” Dow said in a prepared statement. “I am very pleased that many talented people worked together to address the financial concerns of the past several months. Our new Board members – Brett West, John Peracchio and Don Simkin – asked me to gratefully acknowledge the time and dedication of the Village of Lake Placid, Mayor Craig Randall, NSA parents and staff – particularly Peter Fish and Bill Ward – at this time.”
The Lake Placid-based private school, which was founded as a winter tutorial program for student athletes in 1977, had been struggling with financial difficulties brought on by a poor economy, decreased enrollment, increased financial aid and burdensome debt. The school had also grappled with a leadership transition following the resignation of its headmaster, Jeff Beedy, who replaced co-founder and longtime headmaster David Wenn last spring.
In December, school officials told the Enterprise that net assets decreased by about $170,000 in 2011. Expenses had also outpaced revenues by some $290,000, according to a copy of the school’s federal 990 form for 2011, which was accessed on GuideStar, an online database of nonprofit organizations’ financial documents.
The hardships led the school to establish a Short Term Support Fund to address cash flow issues. As of Wednesday, $180,000 had been pledged for the fund, and nearly all of that money had been collected. Dow said the school hopes to collect the remaining funds by the end of the week.
“That’s an amazing amount of funding for a very small community, and it’s mostly been parents and a few alumni and staff contributions through payroll,” she said. “And it was parent run and mobilized, which is even better.
“It has also really been a springboard to develop a stronger partnership with our parent body. Our plan right now is to create a parent group so we can continue with that momentum.”
NSA is also working on an application to the village of Lake Placid’s Revolving Loan Fund. Mayor Craig Randall said the fund has been around for several years but hasn’t been tapped into very often. He said it serves two purposes: to help establish new businesses and to retain jobs in the community. NSA currently employs approximately 25 full- and part-time workers.
Randall said NSA approached the village about applying for a loan around Christmas.
“They have to demonstrate an ability to repay it, and there’s other conditions that have to be met,” he said. “The school is currently in the process of fulfilling all of the application requirements.”
The Adirondack Economic Development Corporation will be the underwriting agent for the loan application, Randall said. Once complete, the village Board of Trustees will have to vote to approve it. Randall said it’s too soon to say how much the loan will be for, although he expects it to be between $175,000 and $200,000.
“I think the community should know that we’re not a lender of last resort, and we’re not there just to bail out a troubled business,” he said. “The program that we have is designed to fill a gap where otherwise the prospects for success would be there but, for one reason or another, there isn’t adequate credit available.”
An outside parent investor group also provided significant funding to the school, Dow said.
Dow said she’s confident that the new business plan will put the school on a viable financial path for the future.
“We would not have opened our doors if we thought that this was just going to be a Band-Aid solution that was going to get us until the end of the year,” she said. “The entire goal going into this, from the very beginning, was that we were going to create a long-term strategic plan that was going to put the school on better footing from a governance perspective, an internal management perspective, and the academic and financial pieces as well. It was never, at any point in the process, just a plan to get our graduating seniors to the end of the year.”
“It’s not a difficult business model,” Peracchio said. “If we get students, the business model works. We are extremely close in coming to an agreement with a program that will help us secure a second girls’ hockey team. That will help greatly. And we’re considering adding a second boys’ team as well.”
Dow said recruiting for the second girls’ hockey team – for girls under the age of 16 – is under way. The school already has an under-19 team.
Peracchio said he couldn’t speak about the specifics of what led to NSA’s financial troubles. He said that, moving forward, strict cost controls will be in place.
“Everything is going to be monitored more closely and run more like a business, and I think that’s the part that was possibly missing,” Peracchio said.
Dow, who joined NSA last July as academic dean, will serve as acting head of school for the foreseeable future – at least through the remainder of the school year. She said there are currently no plans to search for a new headmaster.
“I do believe that we will explore that possibility at an appropriate time,” Dow said.
The 18 winter Olympians who have passed through the halls of NSA have competed in the Olympics a total of 31 times.
Vermontville native Bill Demong is one of the school’s best-known alumni, having won gold and silver medals in his fourth Olympics, in 2010 in Vancouver, as a Nordic combined skier. He said in a phone interview that he was relieved to hear that the school will remain open.
“Hopefully, it will be a new and better path for them financially in order to be a viable school in the future,” Demong said. “They have been such a powerful asset to the community, both as an educational facility but also as a resource for bringing high-level athletes to the community and also for our local athletes in order to fulfill their goals without having to leave the area.
“I think NSA fits a niche as part of the Olympic legacy that no other school really fills, in that it does cater to some of the smaller sports – be it ski jumping, cross-country skiing, biathlon, speedskating or luge – and keeps high-level athletes competing at the Olympic venues in Lake Placid.”
Dow said the school community is relieved and energized following the recent uncertainty.
“I think one of the most important things that came out of this entire exercise is the fact that the school, in recent years, didn’t have as deep of ties into the local community as it could have,” she said. “I feel that we’ve begun the process of really rekindling the ties that the school really needs to have within the Lake Placid and surrounding community. It’s essential for our survival.”
Randall said that NSA has demonstrated “significant success” and is an important part of the Lake Placid community. He added that the school employs about 25 local people and that students and their families spend money that helps the local economy.
“There’s an economic value to the school,” Randall said.
NSA’s enrollment is currently 62. A full year’s tuition costs $30,740 for a boarding student and $14,340 for a day student, plus additional fees for athletes in specific sports programs. The school serves grade 8 through post-graduate students and currently offers programs in Alpine and freestyle skiing, boys and girls hockey, and luge.
In the past, the school has also catered to athletes competing in Nordic skiing, figure skating and biathlon.
Peracchio lives in New Jersey, and his daughter is a freshman at NSA. West’s son is a senior at NSA and competes on the World Cup luge circuit, and Simkin’s son is a former NSA student.
Students returned to class on Tuesday following winter break.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.