After much consideration, the Board of Education said it still needs more information before it will cut the number of nurses in the school district.
As the April 11 adoption for next year’s school budget fast approaches, the Board of Education declared a few definitive details at Monday night’s meeting. Instead of implementing a $63.37 million budget that was first proposed, the board is working with a $63.17 million budget, a 2.66 percent increase from last year. While members were able to cut $200,000 from the initial budget, members paid heed to community concerns and decided to keep the swim team and the athletic trainer. The board will likely keep full time nurses at all of the schools in the district until it collects more data to make a more informed decision.
“I think no one has a clear idea of what nurses do on a day-to-day basis,” said Board of Education member Peggy O’Leary. “Why is it a mystery? Who exactly is going to do what, when the nurses aren’t there? There’s no plan yet.”
At the outset of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Dennis Lauro suggested an alternative to the original nurse cut. Lauro proposed keeping full time nurses at the high school, middle school, Colonial Elementary School and Prospect Hill Elementary School. Hutchinson Elementary School, Siwanoy Elementary School and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School would each have had a part-time nurse. While this plan added in one more full time nurse than the original plan did, both parents and nurses still expressed unease as the meeting continued.
“Sometimes [kids] need 10 minutes of quiet and a pat on a head,” said Laura O’Sullivan, a Pelham parent. “I’m afraid that what we’re going to lose, are a lot of parents getting called home. I know it doesn’t sound like a budget issue for you, but asking taxpayers to miss this much work because there was no one there to apply a Bandaid….It’s kind of pound foolish.”
Board members reminded parents that New York State only requires schools to have someone on hand to administer medication, which a part-time nurse can accomplish and that the Nurses Association recommends one nurse for every 750 students.
"Parents are terrified to have their kids in school without a full time nurse," remarked Board of Education Vice President Dr. Martha Arden. "That part puzzles me. Most of the kids go to nursery school and soccer practice without nurses. I think it would very reasonable to start with [part-time nurses at] two schools and then we would have the experience to see how it works out."
Still, parents and nurses echoed concerns about the administering of epinephrine and dealing with emergency situations. Some also questioned if the $107,000 saved in reducing the number of nurses to four full time and three part time would actually make that much of a dent in the budget.
Curious as to how other boards are dealing with similar budget woes, Carolyn Laskaj, a Pelham parent, called 18 Westchester districts and found that none have reduced the number of nurses. Laskaj did find that schools in Mount Vernon have cut the number of nurses, but officials told her “it’s not working out so well.”
“I would hate to be the only one that goes from full time to part time,” Laskaj said.
To help clarify the role nurses play in the Pelham schools, Lauren Eicher, PMHS’ full-time nurse, offered a brief run-down of what her job entails. Among Eicher’s many duties, she mentioned that she’s trained approximately 150 teachers in how to administer epinephrine and glucagon injections, she manages more than 50 medications and consults with about 70 students per week.
Kiki Burpee, Hutchinson’s school nurse, noted that she sees about 70 kids per day.
“They come in and out of our office all day long,” Burpee said. “The older kids can take care of themselves to some degree.”
While Burpee and Eicher offered persuasive anecdotes, board members said that they still need more information to determine if each school in the district needs its own nurse to function safely and effectively.
“If there’s a way to keep them in, I would rather postpone and look at the decision meticulously and diligently,” said board member Lisa Kiernan.
Considering that the school budget for 2012-2013 may only get bleaker, some board members wondered if they’re only delaying the inevitable.
“We’re going to be right here again,” remarked Ted Howard. “Are we just delaying the shock?”