The Red Cross has imposed changes in its fee structures that have many commercial pool operators up in arms.
The organization offers a variety of programs including lifeguard
and instructor training, certification, and a system designed to
help teachers instruct students on swimming techniques.
More than 2 million people participate in the Red Cross swimming
and water-safety program each year, according to officials with the
Then last summer, it was announced that the Red Cross would
increase fees for the learn-to-swim program, converting from a flat
rate to one that would charge $5 per student.
The changes were made to help overcome budgetary issues and create
more uniformity in pricing, according to Red Cross officials.
“There wasn’t a clearly defined flat rate,” said
Steve Glockenmeier, vice president of Preparedness and Health and
Safety Services for the Red Cross. “Within individual states
... they were charging different amounts.”
But organizations and municipalities serving large numbers of
students said the changes would cost them tens of thousands of
dollars, which they couldn’t afford.
“We’ve adamantly conveyed to them that we are neither
in a position to absorb these fees nor would we if we were,”
said Manuel Gonzalez, Aquatic Supervisor 3 for the city of Chula Vista, Calif.
“Essentially, they’re punishing agencies that are
actively working to reduce drowning by charging them more because
they’re teaching in greater volume.”
As a result of the outcry, the Red Cross reduced the fees earlier
this year. The new, two-tier system goes into effect this June and
rewards programs that use its lifeguard training course. The cost
is $300 per property for the first 150 swim lessons, then an
additional $1 per student; or $350 per property for up to 100
students, then $1 for each additional person.
Where last year’s increases would have cost the city of
Chula Vista $50,000, the most recent change would still boost fees
$6,000 over their pre-2011 level, Gonzalez said. The city of Chula
Vista has since developed its own learn-to-swim curricula.
For some, the fee reduction came too late. The city of Phoenix left
the Red Cross after an earlier lifeguard certification price hike,
stating that those increases alone would cost an additional
$20,000. Many other Arizona cities and counties followed
Phoenix’s lead, according to Kelly Martinez, Recreational
Coordinator 3 for the city of Phoenix.
“I have to say, we are so happy with our new provider,”
she said. “The Red Cross now is contacting us to possibly go
back, and we’re no longer interested.”
Glockenmeier explained that the Red Cross is not ignoring
high-volume programs or those serving needy communities. The
organization has expressed a willingness to work with these venues,
in some cases not charging. “We take the full position that
the instruction would not be denied to anyone who could not afford
it,” he said.
He also said he regretted that last year’s fee increase took
place in the middle of many facilities’ budget cycle, and
that the organization didn’t realize how greatly some
facilities would be affected.
While the American Red Cross has the most name recognition, a
variety of other learn-to-swim programs are still available.
However, when it comes to lifeguard training, the choices are more