Community East Edition Herald American Local News Lynwood Press News Northeast Edition The Press

Independent contractors lose jobs teaching park programs

DOWNEY — Randy Ignacio saw the coronavirus’ infliction of economic pain firsthand as the deadly disease forced the city of Downey to shut down all recreational tennis classes for youth and adults.

A contracted class instructor, Ignacio was scheduled to teach 36 short-term classes from beginning to intermediate and advanced players, as part of a bundle of parks and recreation classes the city offers from $60 to $64. 

Ignacio is far from being alone. 

Hundreds of contracted class instructors lost their jobs and income in the region as the COVID-19 pandemic slammed them hard while Southeast Los Angeles County cities banned all teaching, sport practice and group gathering, tightened their grip to prevent the disease from spreading to students and their families.

“It’s been tough,” Ignacio said. “I have a [wedding] film making business, which keeps me busy, but it’s been tough.”

Under the contract arrangement, Downey provided the facilities, and Ignacio, a UC Irvine graduate with 10 years of coaching experience, agreed to teach lessons at the Downey Tennis Complex courts. 

As Gov. Gavin Newsom issued guidelines for schools and professional sports to reopen starting June 14, contracted independent instructors are left with little options but to file for pandemic unemployment assistance that allocates $600 a week until July 31 per qualified applicant plus state benefits adding from $40 to $450.  

Wave Newspapers tracked the lineups of recreational classes in area cities slated from the first week of March, days before California and the county issued emergency orders to remain at home, to the second week of June. In all, nearly 800 classes were canceled from brochures and online portals by municipalities due to concerns of coronavirus contagion.

Those classes ranged from piano and guitar lessons, aquatic and swimming, baseball and soccer for children and teenagers, art and painting, wellness and fitness for adults and seniors to martial arts such as jiu-jitsu, karate and Tae kwon do. 

Santa Fe Springs was the rare city that responded to the pandemic by switching to online teaching, with 54 classes migrating to virtual clinics and chats for sports and dance instruction to parents and students.  

Downey closed 120 community classes for youth ages 5 to 14 from March 13 to June 6, including music for toddlers, karate and folkloric dance, plus 60 sports classes, for a total of 200. 

Downey also canceled the jobs for 54 contracted class instructors. 

Qualified contract instructors are hired by parks and recreation departments after submitting class proposals and personal liability insurance that usually covers up to $1 million against injuries, particularly in the teaching of sports and physical education exercises. 

Advised by their attorneys, cities often require contract instructors to add them in their personal insurance policies as insured entities against third-party liability claims.

Usually, payment of instructors’ services follows a formula that accounts for the number of students enrolled in each class, and between 55% and 70% of their fees. For example, if 12 students signed up for a yoga class scheduled to meet twice a week for five weeks during summer with an enrollment fee of $65, the instructor would earn between $429 and $546 from a total of $780. 

The cities keep the rest, plus additional fees for administrative costs and use of facilities and materials. 

Enrollees pay between $26 and up to $205 per class, leaving cities hooked with prorated refunds and with deficits in projected revenues for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Downey’s Parks and Recreation Manager Jason Chacon acknowledged the city took a financial hit from canceling contract classes and it is calculating historic fourth quarter revenues to assess the damage. 

Chacon said that the city is still wait for guidelines from the county to bring recreational classes back. A staff member said recreational activities could restart in four to six weeks.

Added to the uncertainty is an expected surge in coronavirus cases as the economy reopens and people slowly return to work. Almost 3,000 people in Los Angeles County have died of the coronavirus and another 77,000 have tested positive for the disease.

“When [recreational classes] are [re]introduced, they will still be highly reduced due to the anticipated regulations that the county will require for social distancing and reduced facility capacities,” Chacon said. 

Currently, Downey does not require personal liability insurance from contracted class instructors, Chacon said. 

Nonetheless, the sweeping pandemic crippled programs across the region. Huntington Park closed about 58 recreational classes that included creative writing, painting and all contracted instruction of sports. At least eight contract class instructors lost their jobs.  

Paramount scrapped English as a second language classes, aerobics, parenting classes and a parent workshop, art and exploration classes for mothers rearing toddlers, and several dance and martial arts classes for youth. 

The city of Commerce took a beating with its robust program of community classes for youth and adults that encapsulates baseball and soccer lessons, health and fitness for adults, and arts and crafts for children and teenagers, plus gymnastics and aquatics. 

It also removed guided trips to Camp Commerce, a resort the city owns in Lake Arrowhead for social gatherings and retreats for city and private employees that include vacations.  

Emma Hernandez, a computer literacy and robotics teacher in Bell who co-owns the nonprofit South East Community Development Corporation, said not all cities have a model requiring fees for recreational classes, because many residents cannot afford to pay.

Bell had to cancel eight classes for 120 students. 

Bell subcontracted for Hernandez and her husband to teach children with after-school programs, and to equip adults and seniors with skills on how to operate computers, opening email accounts, internet navigation and working with Microsoft software systems. 

“We put most of the effort helping people get connected,” Hernandez said. “We don’t know how these kids will be able to stay connected,” because many used to do homework in the library. 

“Also, it’s going to take long for many of the adults to comeback.”

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer