Distorted Reality Regarding the “School Pool”

As we’ve all been relaxing this summer and gearing up for Fall, the school division and county staff have been hard at work lobbying community members and elected officials to support the school pool.  At taxpayer expense, I might add.

Supporters of the “school pool” don’t seem to care who operates the pool, as long we get an additional pool. They seem to believe the school division will keep its promise to provide swim lanes for private clubs and don’t appear to be concerned about the financial aspects of operating a pool.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, I don’t have any problems with a recreation center co-located with the 12th high school. I believe that we need additional year round swimming facilities in this county.  Where I disagree with the “school pool” supporters is on the control and money aspects of the pool.  I believe that the pool should be a parks and recreation asset, should be run by parks and recreation, and its debt service and operating costs should be paid for from parks and recreation’s budget.

Year round swimming facilities are in high demand in the community for swimming lessons, aquatics classes, water polo, recreation, and private swim team clubs.  PWC residents appear to want additional swim facilities in the county and expressed that desire in 2006 when they overwhelmingly authorized the county to issue bonds for improvements to park and recreation facilities.

What separates a “school pool” from a “county pool”, from my perspective, is the purpose for which the pool exists.

A “county pool” would have to be open to the public. County parks and recreation already provides aquatics classes and recreation for citizens, as well as lanes for high school swim teams and private swimming clubs. The county run pools are overcrowded.  Classes have waiting lists and children are turned away from private swim clubs because lane space is so sorely lacking.  An additional year round pool would make a difference in the availability of lanes for swim teams and clubs and space for classes for citizens.  The 12th high school’s central location in the county makes it an ideal location for a recreation center.

A “school pool”, on the other hand, would be a school division resource and would primarily exist to provide facilities for school sponsored swimming lessons and practice and meet facilities for high school swim teams.  A “school pool” wouldn’t be any different than the PWCS provided football and baseball fields and tracks.  PWCS high school football and baseball fields aren’t open to the public, nor are many of the high school and middle school tracks and fields.  As a school division resource, just like the high school football and baseball fields, the “school pool” wouldn’t have to be open to the public at all.  There is no guarantee that a “school pool” would be available to the public any more than the high school football and baseball fields are now.

There are many sports that PWC high schools sponsor that don’t have facilities provided.  PWCS doesn’t provide ice for ice hockey teams, it doesn’t provide greens for golf teams, and doesn’t provide ranges for archery teams.  In addition to the high cost of providing those facilities, those facilities are in high demand by the general public and providing them through parks and recreation meets a greater community need than just providing them for school sponsored teams and lessons.

County residents as a whole have expressed their desire for more year round swimming facilities.  Not facilities just for schools, but facilities that are available to every county resident.  To me, because the need is a community need, the pool should be a county resource that is controlled, run, and paid for by county parks and recreation.

The financial aspects of operating a pool can not be disregarded.  When it comes to the financial aspects of operating the “school pool”, in my opinion, PWCS has made many “promises” that simply don’t match reality.

PWCS officials have not estimated the annual cost of operating the pool but are confident they can recoup 100% of the pool’s operating costs through public usage fees.  They base this on the Chinn Aquatic and Fitness Center, which covers its operating costs with public usage fees.

The Chinn Aquatic and Fitness Center is a public recreation center operated by PWC Parks and Recreation.  It is open to the public from 5 am – 9 pm every day. It offers swimming lessons and aquatics classes throughout the day to the public.

PWCS intends to provide swimming lessons to 4th-grade and middle school students during the school day as part of their school instructional program.  In 2016 when the 12th high school and pool open, there will be roughly 7,000 4th-grade students enrolled in and attending PWCS. There are about 36 weeks in the instructional year.  With busing, changing, and dry off times, in order to provide swimming lessons to the 7,000 4th grade students in PWCS, there will have to be roughly 50 4th-grade students in the pool taking lessons at the same time from 10 am – 2 pm.

School division officials have stated that they believe the “school pool” can be open to the public when students are taking their school sponsored swimming lessons.  Arlington County Public Schools is the only school division in the area that operates pools in their high schools.  APS operates pools in each of their 3 high schools.  They’ve operated pools in their high schools since the 60’s, and perhaps earlier.  During the school day APS students take school sponsored swimming lessons in the APS pools. There are 31 schools in APS that share their 3 pools for swimming lessons.  APS closes their pools to the public during the school day when students are using them.

PWCS will have students from 89 schools sharing 1 pool, and they believe the pool can still be open to the public.  APS has students from 31 schools sharing 3 pools, and they close their pools to the public when students are taking lessons.

Reality is that PWCS will not be able to open the pool to the public while students are taking their school sponsored swimming lessons.  Unless they’ve decided to disregard student safety, the “school pool” will have to be closed some portion of each day for student swimming lessons.

Why is this point important?  PWCS officials say APS isn’t a good example because they block out times when the pools aren’t open to the public.  PWCS’s plan to recoup 100% of the pool’s operating costs hinges on the pool being fully used by the public from 5 am to 9 pm.  To recoup 100% of the pool’s operating costs they can’t block out times where the pool is closed to the public, but they’ll have to close the pool to the public if they want to safely offer swimming lessons to PWCS students.  That means full utilization of the “school pool” won’t happen, nor will the 100% recoup of pool operating expenses.

APS probably provides the best example of what a school division run pool might look like from the standpoint of operating costs.  In their more than 40 years operating pools in their high schools, APS has never once recouped the cost of operating those pools (see here for their FY 2014 budget – aquatics is on page 332).  Over the past 4 years they’ve recouped almost half their pool operating costs through public usage fees.

In the 2013 – 2014 school year APS projects that it will spend $1.7 million operating 3 pools – that’s roughly $570,000 in operating costs for each pool.  Assuming costs run about the same for PWCS and PWCS can recoup half of one pool’s operating costs from public usage fees, that means PWCS will have to pay an additional $285,000 in expenses each year.  Combined with the $723,000 debt service expense, the “school pool” will cost PWCS an additional $1 million a year, and that’s after public usage fees are deducted.  That $1 million will come from the the money provided by county taxpayers for school operations for things like textbooks, school supplies, and teacher salaries.

I sat through every one of the budget meetings this year.  PWCS couldn’t find the money in this year’s budget to fully fund special ed or partially reimburse the school’s for the cuts they had to absorb.  The magic money fairy doesn’t exist.  PWCS couldn’t find the money to fully fund special ed.  How can it find the $1 million that will be needed to pay for the pool?

I agree with “school pool” supporters that our community wants and needs additional year round swimming facilities.  In order to meet the greatest community need, I believe that pool should be controlled, run, and paid for through county parks and recreation.

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One Response to “Distorted Reality Regarding the “School Pool””

  1. rgb Says:

    Unfortunately, in today’s PW County it’s difficult if not impossible to preach fiscal responsibility when elected officials are primarily concerned with establishing personal legacies for themselves and their districts at the expense of actual EDUCATIONAL endeavors.

    Thank you for at least being one voice of reason.


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