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Portland Parks & Rec prepares for scaled back summer programs amid staffing shortages

Swim lessons will only be held at outdoor pools due to a lack of lifeguards, but both indoor and outdoor pools will be available for open swims.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Seasonal staff shortages at Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) could lead to reduced summer programs, particularly swim lessons, the bureau warned as it aims to ramp up seasonal hiring. 

When PP&R opened its registration window for summer programs and swim lessons, swim lesson spots filled up almost immediately. According to Portland Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the bureau, staffing levels are currently about half what they need to be, and the number of available sessions reflects that. To operate at a full-service level, she said PP&R would need 750 employees — they currently have about half that. 

"Really what it comes down to is more staff equals more classes," Rubio said. "Right now, at this point, we are literally adding as we go."

Most needed are lifeguards and swim instructors. PP&R will restrict swim lessons to outdoor pools only during the staffing shortage, but both indoor and outdoor pools will be open for open swims.

"With every additional lifeguard that we bring on right now, we can let 25 more people in a given pool for our open pool sessions. For every additional swim instructor we hire and train, we can accommodate about 20 more students per session," Rubio said. "So you can really see how each hire makes a critical difference and how much access it creates."

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Unlike previous years, PP&R is not facing a budget issue, thanks to the voter-passed 2020 Parks Levy. Over the past two years, however, many programs were reduced or cut due to pandemic health and safety concerns. 

"We're ramping back up to that full capacity and it's taking all of us around the country to get back up to that scale. So that's why we have this lag in a way that we've never had before," Commissioner Rubio said.

For those wanting to sign up, a registration window is open now for those summer programs and lessons for classes and programs running June 21 through July 24. Classes for this first window filled up fast — within minutes of the registration opening — but some spots were still available at certain pools.

Another two windows will open again on June 17 and Aug. 1 for classes and programs in July, August, September and October.

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