Budget shortfalls threatening to close two Berkeley swimming pools have already cost 50 seniors their four-year-old water aerobics class.
Seniors at the West Campus Pool, at Addison and Curtis streets, say the city has unfairly singled them out while it battles with the Berkeley Unified School District about pool fees.
“This is discrimination against seniors,” said class member Sydney Vilen.
The water aerobic classes, provided free by the Berkeley Adult School, were abruptly canceled last month after the school was unable to pay the city $14,000.
City officials said that this year’s tight budget gave them no choice but to pull the plug on the program.
Senior criticism of the class cancellation comes amid increasing public anger about the city’s scheduled November through April closure of the West Campus Pool and Willard Pool on Telegraph Avenue. The pool closures are also cost-saving measures.
Under a 1991 agreement, the school district and the city are supposed to reimburse one another for use of each other’s facilities. For several years, however, neither side has bothered to make payments, said Lisa Caronna, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department.
But now that the city is strapped with a budget deficit it has asked the school district to pay the money it owes. Under the 1991 agreement, the school district is supposed to fund a portion of electricity, gas and water expenses for school-sponsored water programs estimated to cost about $80,000 a year.
Caronna said the money is vital to the parks department, which has been asked to cut $100,000 from its budget.
The pools cost Berkeley $800,000 a year, Caronna said, but they bring in only about $200,000.
Adult school principal Margaret Kirkpatrick said she did not realize that the school was responsible for pool costs. She added that, due to school board budget constraints, the adult school did not have $14,000 for the program.
Seniors say the city’s decision was punitive.“They wouldn’t even give us a grace period until November [when the pool is scheduled to close for the winter],” Vilen said.
Caronna, though, said the budget crunch is forcing the pools to ask users for more money.
“We are a small city and run five swimming pools so when we don’t get attendance, we look for programs that weren’t heavily attended,” Caronna said.
At the city’s urging, other swim organizations such as the Berkeley Bears youth swim team have increased their yearly dues, from $12,000 to $22,000, to help pay for their own programs.
The seniors, however, haven’t taken such an approach.
One idea called for seniors to pay $22.50 a month to take the class. But the current enrollment would not pay for a teacher who was previously paid with school board grants, a pool official said.
The senior water aerobics class was the only adult swim program the school district offered. All school district youth swim programs will continue while the city and school district discuss exactly how much money is owed for use of the city’s pools.