San Ramon Valley Unified School District staff hope that its partnership with the city of San Ramon will help solve issues the district has been having with staffing its four swimming pools with certified lifeguards, staff announced at the district's Tuesday meeting.
Since the board’s decision to staff school pools with at least three lifeguards while in use -- a result of an on-campus student drowning -- district staff have struggled to find an agency with enough lifeguards available to staff each site, resulting in the unintended consequence of limiting pools' availability for high school water polo teams.
Staff explained that the district does not hire lifeguards itself and instead contracts with outside agencies to do so, but due to a statewide shortage of certified lifeguards, regional agencies have been unable or unwilling to provide the suitable number needed to staff each pool. This has resulted in lost practice time for water polo teams whose fall season had already begun.
In an attempt to solve this issue, the district announced that as of Tuesday an agreement with San Ramon -- who already staffed Dougherty Valley and California High Schools pools -- will provide the lifeguards needed for teams to practice the requested 18 hours a week. One problem is that the hours the city's lifeguards are available do not match up with teams' requested practice hours.
“We’re willing to provide that time and we are trying to help the city by helping them recruit lifeguards...and if we find staff, we are willing to add that time slot,” said deputy superintendent Toni Taylor. “But right now, as things stand today, we don’t have the capability of getting lifeguards to those pools.”
In past years, teams were allowed to begin practice weekdays starting at 3:30 p.m., but due to time and travel constraints from the lifeguards provided by the city, practice cannot begin until 4 p.m.
“This has been a three-month project to try and meet supply and demand,” Superintendent Rick Schmitt added. “The city has been amazing and they are working on it...we've gone to great lengths to staff up, but we need more time.”
Heather Johnston, varsity woman’s coach and program coordinator at San Ramon Valley High School, lamented the loss of pool time, but said she wished to work more closely with the district in the future, in order to coordinate a solution to the current scheduling issue.
“We should have 78 hours (of training time) under our belt by today and we're not anywhere close to that,” Johnston told the school board. “I would ask that you use me as a resource if you would like to." She added that it was also important to resolve the issue before the beginning of the winter swim team season.
Approximately 50 students, staff and family members attended the meeting to advocate on behalf of SRVUSD water polo teams, several of whom said lifeguards were unnecessary due to the skill level of the student athletes.
“It is very important that SRVUSD establishes safety measures without going too far,” said Holden Neach, SRVHS varsity water polo co-captain. “We have 19 hard-trained, completely capable swimmers in the pool at one time, and most times we have two or three coaches on deck. There's no reason we need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on lifeguards.”
Previous district policy did not require every school pool to be staffed with lifeguards. Dougherty Valley and Cal High had lifeguards provided by San Ramon due to the city mandating that they do so. The district elected to equip every school pool with lifeguards following the drowning of 15-year-old freshman Benjamin Curry in the SRVHS pool during class, at which time the pool was staffed by a PE teacher and not a certified lifeguard.
“Ultimately I see this as a safety issue. I was appalled to learn that there were lifeguards at two schools but not the other two,” board member Susanna Ordway said at the meeting. “You guys are probably the fastest swimmers around and there is probably very, very low risk of something happening, but if there is just an inkling of a chance... I see this as insurance.”
“I was also shocked...Bottom line is I could not in conscience as a board member allow swim programs to continue where half of our schools were staffed from a safety perspective and two of them were not,” board member Greg Marvel added. “One death is not something I want to repeat. I don't care if it's 20 years from now and it happens again. Never. Not on my watch will we ever do that again.”
Board president Ken Mintz reiterated that the loss of practice hours was purely a result of staffing issues and not out of any desire to see the programs hurt or fail.
In an effort to help find additional lifeguards for the city, on Wednesday afternoon the district hosted two recruitment drives at San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista high schools.
Previous projections indicate that the lifeguard program will cost about $125,000 for the fall semester. In compliance with the American Red Cross pool safety guidelines, the district now requires every pool to be staffed with at least three lifeguards when in use.
In other business
*SRVUSD staff gave a presentation highlighting the successes of the district’s summer school programs, detailing the number of students who attended summer courses, how they fared and why they elected to do so.
One of the biggest achievements of the program is the jump in reading levels for elementary school students in reading courses, typically geared at helping students maintain their current grade reading level. According to staff 88% of the 180 students sampled increased their reading levels by one to three reading levels.
*In an effort to appreciate and acknowledge the district’s students and staff of Hispanic descent, the board recognized September as Hispanic Heritage Month.
*The school board also approved increased spending on the California High School Mangos Drive pedestrian bridge project, which went $58,437 over budget due to unforeseen issues.
According to deputy superintendent Gary Black, damage to the structure was more significant than originally anticipated and none of the previous structure was salvageable, resulting in the need for the old bridge to be completely replaced with a new, safer one.
While the district is typically required to open up bidding for projects over $45,000, Black explained this was a rare case that justified simply approving the additional expenditures. He said that the district would not get a better deal and opening the bidding process was not in the public's best interest.
*The board reviewed the financial report for the 2017-18 unaudited actuals of the district budget, accepting the report and allowing it to be passed on to state auditors. The full report can be found on the district's Sept. 4 meeting agenda under Item 10.1.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that only two lifeguards were required at SRVUSD pools, and that the district previously required lifeguards be placed in San Ramon schools. In fact, three lifeguards are now required at each pool and the district did not have a policy requiring lifeguards be stationed at San Ramon schools. The city of San Ramon required and supplied the lifeguards at Dougherty Valley and California high schools. DanvilleSanRamon.com regrets the error.