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Parents Petition for Better Treatment of Gymnastics Program Staff

Gymnastics programs at Barcroft (photo via Arlington County)(Updated at 6:30 p.m.) More than 250 people have signed a petition calling for Arlington County to provide retirement benefits and paid time off to year-round gymnastics program employees currently classified as “temporary” workers.

The gymnastics instructors are employed by Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation, though they coach the Arlington Aerials and Arlington Tigers teams, which are privately supported.

The petition says that only two out of 50 gymnastics staff members are classified as permanent employees, while the rest are considered temporary, “making it harder to recruit and retain qualified staff.”

“While a temporary classification is appropriate for staff who truly are temporary, we do not believe it is appropriate for those who work year-round coaching the team and teaching classes,” the petition says.

Both the Arlington Aerials Parents Association and Arlington Tigers Parents Association are supporting the petition.

“Gymnastics is a fully self-supporting program: the fees paid by those in the program fully offset its costs,” the petition notes. “All additional costs of fairly compensating the coaches would be absorbed within the gymnastics cost center, and borne by the families whose children participate in the program.”

Arlington’s gymnastics programs are hosted at the Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center. The County Board this month approved a plan to expand the gymnastics facilities due to high demand.

The full text of the petition is below.

Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) employs on average 50 staff members each session in its gymnastics program. Of these, only two are classified as permanent employees. The remainder is designated as temporary and denied the full package of benefits given to permanent County staff, making it harder to recruit and retain qualified staff. The Arlington Aerials Parents Association and Arlington Tigers Parents Association strongly believe the safety, well-being and success of the gymnastics program is a direct function of the program’s ability to attract and retain the best coaches.

While a temporary classification is appropriate for staff who truly are temporary, we do not believe it is appropriate for those who work year-round coaching the team and teaching classes. Many of these staff have been employed by the County for many years, and work year-round with few breaks in their schedule. Ten of the gymnastics staff have worked for the County for seven or more years.  Yet because of their temporary designation they are ineligible to receive retirement benefits or paid vacation days or holidays.  They also lack job security–unlike permanent staff, temporary employees can be terminated at any time, for any reason.

In the last year alone, three long-tenured staff have left their positions, citing among their primary reasons the lack of benefits.  One of these staff members said: “I adored teaching gymnastics for Arlington, but couldn’t keep working a job that didn’t recognize my efforts. Being newly married I had to consider not only myself but my husband and our desires for a family one day. The need for benefits had to outweigh my love for the job. Not having the option of maternity leave or paid time off and not getting paid in the winter every day the County was closed became too costly.”

Hiring and replacing experienced coaching staff is not a simple matter–gymnastics is a demanding and highly technical sport, and staff must have experience to successfully and safely teach the sport. Staff must have in-depth knowledge of skills and techniques, and the ability to breakdown and teach progressions; an understanding of injury prevention and first aid; and skill working with youth. Advanced level and team coaches, in particular, need USA Gymnastics (USAG) certification to coach gymnasts and mentor lower- level coaches. Retaining highly qualified staff is mission critical for DPR in light of the significant enrollment in the gymnastics program, as well as the upcoming expansion of the Barcroft facility and accompanying increase in the number of gymnastics classes to meet the high demand for gymnastics instruction in the County. To remain competitive and successfully expand its gymnastics program, DPR needs to be in a strong position to attract and retain highly qualified staff.

Gymnastics is a fully self-supporting program: the fees paid by those in the program fully offset its costs. All additional costs of fairly compensating the coaches would be absorbed within the gymnastics cost center, and borne by the families whose children participate in the program. The changes could be phased in over time to allow for a more gradual escalation in fees.

Arlington County’s children have benefited greatly from DPR’s team of committed gymnastics staff. Over the years, they have taught our children persistence, flexibility, strength, discipline, and a love of the sport.  We must ensure that this program is adequately staffed by well-qualified, fairly compensated employees who will be directly responsible for growing and sustaining an expanded and excellent gymnastics program. We urge the County to reclassify the Arlington County gymnastics coaches and instructors as permanent staff.

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