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Some Red Cross providers remain frustrated with costs and customer service despite lower learn-to-swim fees announced in February. Issues were aired at the Association of Aquatic Professionals’ inaugural conference in Austin, Texas, when Red Cross officials presented a seminar on the new prices and related changes to their aquatic program offerings.

The new, two-tiered pricing started as early as March 1, and becomes official June 1. Learn-to-swim program providers who offer the Red Cross lifeguard training course will be charged an annual fee of $300 per pool property for up to 150 swim lesson students. Additional students are priced at $1 per student. For operations that do not offer the lifeguard training, the annual fee is $350 per pool property, which covers up to 100 students. Those providers would still be charged $1 for additional students beyond what the annual fee covers.

Annual fees include learn-to-swim certificates and program marketing materials. Providers offering other Red Cross programs will have the opportunity to receive additional discounts through special incentives and credit.

But some program providers — perhaps most particularly those at large agencies serving thousands of swim students each year — say the price is still not affordable.

“We’re still getting our budget reduced every year so we’re not in a position to pay more, and I can’t pass it on to my customers,” said Jim Wheeler, who attended the conference in Austin.

Wheeler is recreation services manager for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, an agency that serves between 5,000 and 6,000 students.

He seemed to echo the concerns of other providers who continue to struggle with the Red Cross fees. Nearly 60 percent of professionals think the pricing is too high and will seek other training options, according to an informal poll on aquaticsintl.com.

Red Cross officials say they want to work with facilities that have pricing issues. “We’re really looking to be reasonable,” said Steve Glockenmeier, vice president of product development, Red Cross Preparedness Health and Safety Services.

He was among the Red Cross officials in Austin to address providers. “We’re willing to sit down with anyone to figure out how we can make it work for them. I think the larger facilities have a concern, but there are ways we can work within that without being unfair to the smaller facilities.”

The new pricing is an effort to address concerns over the pricing announced in June 2011, which caused significant frustration among providers. According to Red Cross officials, the intention is to create a more equitable, uniform system that works to recoup the costs of program development. But some industry professionals still have questions, such as whether fees will increase next year.

Other providers expressed frustration in trying to obtain information from local Red Cross chapters. “It seems like we’re paying more fees and getting less customer service,” said Craig Merkey, aquatics coordinator at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, in Middletown, Pa.

Glockenmeier said the agency is still in the process of making organizational changes that are expected to improve customer service.  “We aren’t there yet,” he said a number of times during the meeting.