Swim lessons cut, wages to blame

By Mac Christie

There will be no school swimming lessons for the foreseeable future in Meadow Lake, following the resignation of a full-time lifeguard in late August.

That left the pool with no full-time lifeguards, apart from pool manager Tara Villeneuve. However, in order to run the lessons the pool needs approximately three instructors available during the day.

Although the city has had some resumes for the position, Villeneuve said the pay deters applicants.

“Nobody’s going to touch it for the money,” she said. “The pay is more along the lines of teenagers, or someone living at home that doesn’t have to support themselves.”

But city manager Bruno Kossmann said his hands are tied by the collective bargaining agreement the city renegotiated with pool workers in March.

He noted the CBA has a pay scale that bases the lifeguard’s salary on their qualifications.

“If it says you get paid $14 an hour for that position, I can’t say, ‘well I’m going to hire you and I’ll pay you $18 an hour,’” he added.

As a result of the staff shortage, it’s likely the pool’s hours of operation will change from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m., effective Sept. 9.

However, Villeneuve is unhappy with the change because it would mean spending less time with her family.

But Kossmann noted it doesn’t make fiscal sense to have the pool open if there won’t be people using it, something that would happen due to the staff shortage.

“I don’t think the ratepayers would want to have a facility open and empty, paying the staff to be there,” he noted.

The lack of lessons was frustrating for area schools that had long taken advantage of the program as part of their phys ed. curriculum.

“We’re just truly disappointed,” said Joanne Gislason, principal at Jubilee School. “It was such a positive experience for our kids.”

Dawn Paylor, Lakeview Elementary’s principal echoed the statement, adding the students thoroughly enjoyed the program.

“I guess families will be responsible for enrolling their children in swimming lessons after school,” she said.

But Gislason argued that might not be possible for many children.

“For lots of (students) it was their only opportunity to take Red Cross swimming lessons,” she said. “Many wouldn’t have the opportunity to take lessons outside of school.”

School swimming lessons wouldn’t be the only thing affected by the changed hours. Recreation manager Leah Lehoux noted the whole swim schedule may have to be reworked, but the evening hours would still have instructors because high school students are available.

“If we have the instructors available, we’ll still continue with with the evening lessons,” she said. “But we’re kind of in a bit of a pickle.”

As well, daytime Aquafit classes would be impacted, said Eileen Wood.

Wood had a stroke three years ago and uses the sessions for therapy.

“The pool has basically kept me going,” she said, adding the city should cough up the money to pay lifeguards more.

Kossmann said that while the CBA could be renegotiated before it runs out
Dec.31, 2012, raising pool staff rates would cause other city staff to demand raises, such as public works, waterworks, or parks and recreation.

Increased wages would also cause problems within the department.

“I can’t have lifeguards being paid $20 per hour when I don’t have that much paid to my managers,” Kossmann said.

While the lifeguard shortage is unfortunate, he just doesn’t have anyone to fill the position.

“I can’t pull lifeguards out of my ears, nose or other orifices,” he said.

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