The American Red Cross launched its lower-priced swim lessons last month. But a
number of operators say the fees are still too high, while others
report ongoing communication and customer service issues.
“We are sticking with Red Cross. People here are familiar
with Red Cross,” said Stephanie Maver, program coordinator of
aquatics and adult sports programs at the Willoughby,
Ohio, Parks & Recreation Department. “[But] what are
you getting for the money that you’re paying? Nothing has
Under the new organizational structure, operators such as Maver
report to a regional aquatics representative. But she and others
say there aren’t enough reps to handle the overload of inquiries.
In California, Manuel Gonzalez, aquatic supervisor III for the
city of Chula Vista, said it took him four
months to get certification cards for the students who completed
his lifeguard class in December 2011.
Operators in Arizona became so frustrated that several cities,
including Phoenix and Scottsdale, have ended their affiliations
with the Red Cross altogether, said Kelly Martinez, recreational
coordinator 3 for the city of Phoenix.
Martinez signed on with another provider last year when she was not
able to get answers from the Red Cross. Phoenix operates more than
25 pools and provides swim lessons for more than 15,000 kids.
“None of us are saving any money,” she noted.
“It’s a product and service issue.”
Providers have voiced frustration with the Red Cross since last
year, when the organization abruptly announced a new pricing
structure and made layoffs. The biggest sticking point was the $5
per child fee for swim lessons. Under the current two-tiered
policy, Red Cross learn-to-swim program providers also offering the
lifeguard training course will be charged an annual fee of $300 per
pool property, which covers 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 will still be charged $1 for additional students
beyond what the annual fee covers.
The annual fees include learn-to-swim certificates and program
marketing materials such as banners and posters (with an estimated
value of at least $50). Organizations that offer other Red Cross
programs have the opportunity to receive additional discounts
through special incentives and credit.
As a direct result of these changes, other agencies, including Ellis &
Associates and Starfish Aquatics Institute, report an increase
in the number of inquiries.
“We have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the last 12
months,” said Leslie Donovan, Starfish Aquatics Institute
Other providers are looking at developing their own learn-to-swim
programs. Some say they are staying with the Red Cross for now, but
that may change in the future.
“We’re having to find thousands of dollars that we
didn’t necessarily have in the first place,” said Tara
Eggleston, countywide aquatics coordinator for The
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s
Department of Parks and Recreation. “We still feel like
the Red Cross program is very valuable. We don’t want to
leave. But we are having a tough time swallowing the
Red Cross officials say they remain dedicated to the mission of
preventing drowning and that no one should be turned away for
Connie Harvey, Red Cross manager of aquatics programs, reiterated
her confidence in the quality of the Red Cross program, stressing
the organization’s commitment to staying on the cutting edge
of technology and research.
“We are communicating daily with our many, many aquatics
authorized providers to ensure the delivery of high-quality Red
Cross health and safety training in local communities across the
nation and at military installations overseas,” Harvey
She noted that the Red Cross is working to fill the last few open
aquatic representative positions, and that providers also can seek
answers to routine questions by contacting the Training Support
Center. She said the Red Cross continues to explore cost
“In addition to the high-volume providers, the Red Cross is
also looking at ways to work with our smaller authorized providers,
those who have a lower capacity due to a shorter season because of
weather and/or facility constraints or who serve lower population
areas,” Harvey said. “Authorized providers in these
situations should reach out to their aquatics representative to
submit a case for consideration.”