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Town employees chastised for unapproved swim lessons

Town employees chastised for unapproved swim lessons

Country Knolls pool manager resigned
Town employees chastised for unapproved swim lessons
Kids have fun at the Barney Road pool in Clifton Park in 2015
Photographer: Gazette file photo

CLIFTON PARK -- After learning some employees of the town’s three public pools were taking cash for unapproved, individual swim lessons, the town is planning to create its own one-on-one lesson program.

Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said town officials learned of the lessons within the past two weeks. He would not disclose who notified the town but said the tip was focused on the Country Knolls pool.

Barrett said his office inquired about the lessons and discovered they were also going on at the town's other two pools.

There are three pools in town: the Barney Road Pool, the Locust Lane pool, and the Country Knolls pool. It was unclear as of Monday how much was being charged for the private lessons or how many people were taking them.

The town offers a large learn-to-swim program that is group-based. This summer, there are almost 700 children signed up for those lessons.

Barrett said he never received confirmation the lessons were occurring from town employees. Instead, he said, confirmation came from many parents who called the town to express concern that their private lessons were going to be canceled. 

By the end of the day on which Barrett's office began inquiring about the lessons -- July 13 -- longtime Country Knolls Pool Manager Brian Czerpak had resigned. Barrett couldn't say if the resignation was related to the lessons, and Czerpak could not be reached for comment.

No pool employees, said Barrett, have been suspended, forced to resign or had their pay docked. However, he did meet with pool employees to explain the lessons posed a large liability issue for the town, he said.

"It's a very serious matter for many reasons," he said. "I think we've relayed that to everybody involved with the pools at this point."

Some pool users, however, are not convinced the town was right in ending the lessons. Social media posts, particularly on Facebook, have largely supported Czerpak and condemned the town for what they see as a loss of an employee who made the Country Knolls pool safe and enjoyable.

Many social media posts urged residents to attend the Aug. 6 Town Board meeting to petition town officials.

One parent said the lessons have been going on for years and often were simply extra swimming practice with lifeguards giving children tips. They stemmed from parents' concerns that their kids were not getting enough practice from the group lessons.

The town will soon make an announcement about a town-approved program that will provide individualized swim lessons, Barrett said. He hopes town residents will be satisfied with the new program, he said.

"If everybody understands that it's a very, very serious situation, and they cease the lessons, we can move on with a new program that meets all rules and regulations," he said.

Lifeguards and employees from the Country Knolls pool could not be reached for comment.

From Clifton Park's town attorney Tom McCarthy's perspective, the issue with the lessons is a regulatory one.

There isn't a specific town policy that deals with the issue of swim lessons that are not town-approved, he said. But the town's learn-to-swim program is heavily regulated. It requires that all swimming instructors be certified to teach.

"The town has no idea whether these unsanctioned lessons meet those regulations," he said.

According to McCarthy, the inquiry started with a question about what was involved in the lessons. That question alone, he said, made things "radioactive."

"Everything went silent," he said.

Another issue with the lessons, McCarthy said, is the possibility that a government-owned facility was being used in a "freelancing, for-profit fashion."

All town programs and classes, McCarthy said, come along with an agreement that goes through his office for approval. The agreement outlines what is needed for the programs, including any permits or other certifications.

While reviewing those, McCarthy said he also checks to see whether the town needs insurance for the programs. Contracts for the summer programs are finalized through his office in February and March, he said. But he hasn't received any answers regarding the swim lessons.

"It looks and acts and quacks like a town program, but it's not a town program," he said.

McCarthy is confident the town can implement an individual swim lesson program that will benefit everyone, but until then, he said, the town cannot turn a blind eye just because there's a demand. It's the job of the town, he said, to make sure its facilities are being used properly.

"We just can't pretend that we don't," he said.



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