Cuts to Steamboat Springs School District's nursing staff has teachers worried

— A group of concerned teachers told the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night that recent cuts to the district's nursing staff is putting their students at risk. School district officials said they are working diligently to come up with a solution to alleviate the teachers' concerns.

The school district this year is paying the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association $166,000 to staff its four campuses with two nurses and two medical aides.

Superintendent Brad Meeks said the VNA informed the district last school year that it was providing more services than the district was paying for. As a result, the new contract with the VNA for this school year was increased by about $34,000, but it slightly reduced the district's nursing staff to a level that could potentially leave a school without a nurse or a medical assistant at any given time.

"The complexity of our (students') medical conditions are on the rise while we're cutting nurses,” Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Mindy Mulliken said, adding that the number of students in the district who have severe allergies has nearly doubled in recent years.

She called the cuts "disheartening."

Meeks said he and other district officials have met regularly since February with the VNA to find the best model for nursing services in the district going forward.

“Whatever model we decide to go to, I want to make sure the VNA is planning this with us, and I don't want it to be an inferior model,” Meeks said.

He said the district was considering providing the medical services in the schools itself with one nurse and four nurse's aides, a model the district has estimated it can provide for about $160,000. The VNA has estimated a contract through them to provide that same staffing level would cost about 35 percent more than that.

But some teachers said they want more nurses, not more aides.

The discussion over the reduction in nursing staff in the schools came as members of Steamboat's teachers union spoke to the School Board about a number of concerns they have about the district's recent spending of a $143,000 increase in revenue from an enrollment gain of about 22 full-time students.

The district spent a majority of the additional revenue to fund additional personnel officials said they needed to accommodate the growing student population.

But Steamboat Springs Education Association President Babette Dickson and other members of the teachers union have said that some of the district's expenditures, including $12,000 for telephone and Internet service expenses and a planned expense of as much as $9,829 to hire a part-time administrative assistant at the district's central office, could be better spent.

Dickson told the School Board on Monday night that teachers want a stronger voice in how any surplus funds are spent in the future.

Some board members agreed, and said they should adopt a new policy to give the board more control of the dollars that come in after it approves a budget in the spring.

Currently, the board doesn't approve the spending of the extra revenue the district receives as a result of enrollment growth.

“This in my mind should go through a board review,” School Board President Brian Kelly said about the surplus spending. “It's that simple. I don't think it's fair for the administration to leave it up to them. It's not that they've made bad decisions (on how to spend the money), it's that this is public money and it should go through a public review.”

Board member Robin Crossan had a different view.

She said the board shouldn't micromanage how the dollars the district gains from increased enrollment are spent.

“I feel that it comes through the staff and the principals, and all of your are the experts with the October count money,” she said. “I don't feel it should be four to five board members saying 'we need this and we need that.'

After more discussion, board members came to a consensus that the district should be allowed to hire additional teachers to accommodate its enrollment growth without board approval.

Meeks said those decisions must be made quickly in the summer months at a time the board doesn't hold regular meetings.

But some board members said that items such as the proposed district office secretary should be brought to them for approval.

The board agreed to talk about how it will respond to the district's future surplus spending at a February meeting.

In other action

The School Board accepted the resignation of board member Wayne Lemley, who resigned last week to attend to personal matters. The board voted to accepted letters of interest for Lemley's District 2 seat until Jan.7, and then to conduct public interviews of candidates no later than Jan. 16.

Board members thanked Lemley for his year of service to the district. Crossan then requested that the board have a discussion in the future about how to ensure proprietary information School Board members may obtain during their tenure is secured following their departure.

According to a release from the school district, District 2 covers the southern part of the school district including voting Precincts 18, 7, and 6, but it does not include the Tree Haus neighborhood.

Applicants can call the district office at 970-879-1530 to determine if they reside in the boundary, or if they have any questions about applying for the position.

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