In an effort to give every student full-time access to a school nurse, the Palm Beach County School District plans to ask the health care district for its help finding as much as $600,000 for eight additional positions this year.
“I really think it is time we step up even more,” School Board member Debra Robinson said during Tuesday’s meeting where the board unanimously renewed its long-standing contract with the Health Care District of Palm Beach County to provide school nurses for most public schools in the county.
According to HCD spokeswoman Robin Kish, the health agency currently pays for 166 nurses while the school district pays for 34. Each nurse costs about $75,000 annually.
The additional positions will help make sure that someone is available when a nurse goes on vacation or is out sick. Also, while most schools have a full-time nurse dedicated to their campus, Robinson questioned why several Glades-area schools — including Pioneer Park and Rosenwald elementaries, and Lake Shore Middle School — have to share nurses. What’s more, several alternative programs for at-risk youth like Crossroads Academy and Gold Coast Community School only have nurses on campus part-time.
“The schools that do not have full-time nurses are most likely the schools that have students who are not accessing health care,” Robinson said. “I think we need to make sure all our students can benefit from the school nurse program.”
The taxpayer-funded health care district has provided most of the nurses in Palm Beach County schools since 1997, when it used a grant from the Quantum Foundation — formed in 1995 from the sale of the JFK Medical Center — to establish its school health program.
As more schools were built, the school and health care districts agreed in 2001 that the school district would pay for the nurses at schools built after July 2001 — thus leading to the 34 nurses it pays for now.
Wednesday night, the board directed Superintendent Wayne Gent to try to split the cost of hiring more nurses with the health district to make that happen.
The district’s Chief Academic Officer Cheryl Alligood said it would take as many as eight to make sure every school is staffed full-time. As a result, the board told Gent to find money in the district’s budget for four nurses and get the health district to put up the money for the other four.
“I think it is fair for us to go into our budget and find what we need,” Board member Marcia Andres said, “and then ask the health care district to step up a little bit.”
The HCD’s Kish said the district already funded two more nurses at the start of this school year at the request of the school district.
“We will take the information discussed at last night’s school board meeting to the Health Care District Board of Commissioners for their consideration,” Kish said in a statement Wednesday.