Huffman among districts that must pay for exercise equipment

Now owe $135,000 due to fitness company’s bankruptcy

HUFFMAN — Exercise equipment that the Huffman ISD thought they would be getting for free could end up costing the district as much as $135,700.

Last year, the Huffman ISD entered a three-year lease agreement for 30 exercise stations. The agreement was part of a program created by National School Fitness Foundation called LIFT America. District Superintendent Steve Myers said that under the program, Huffman would be reimbursed for the equipment by the company if they would follow the foundation’s exercise plan and report back student progress.

For nearly a year and a half, the district benefitted from the program, as they were reimbursed $5,900 each month for the equipment.

Then, in April the checks stopped coming to Huffman. National School Fitness filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection as the company and its president Cameron Lewis became the target of federal and state investigations. Lewis resigned his post amid allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars from the foundation.

Myers said that the foundation repaid the district for the first 16 payments, but are now three payments behind. With the payments not coming into the district, Huffman now faces 20 months still due on the equipment lease with no promise of reimbursement.

“The district is evaluating the situation,” said Myers in response to whether or not they will keep the equipment or try to get out of the lease. Myers said that in the end they will likely keep the equipment because of the investment they have already made. Myers added they are talking to their bank about refinancing the equipment.

Despite the recent troubles, Myers said that he was excited about about the program’s concept. “It’s a great program. It just had some financial problems.”

Before joining the program, Myers said they checked with other school districts who were involved and received nothing but compliments about the program.

Among the districts they talked to was Barbers Hill ISD. Barbers Hill had been involved in the program for nearly three years. John Koonce, business manager for Barbers Hill ISD, said that they stand to lose $31,855 for the program. This, he said, is small considering the equipment they bought was valued at $130,000.

Other districts did not fare as well. The Cy-Fair school district stands to lose $650,000, while Pasadena ISD will have make up $200,000 from their budget.

Nationwide, the foundation owes $77.5 million to over 600 districts.