Five school nurses appealed to the Cobb County Board of Education Tuesday night to treat them like the licensed professionals they are and not like bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The school nurses were the only people to speak at the school board’s salary reduction hearing, the second of two required under state law because the tentatively approved fiscal 2012 school budget includes two furlough days and a half-year delay in the step increase for teachers, effectively reducing the local salary supplement.
No one spoke at the first salary hearing May 19. And no one spoke at the second part of tonight’s called meeting, an open forum on the entire 2012 budget.
That budget, tentatively approved 4-3 May 11, features no significant cuts other than two furlough days and requires no tax increase, thanks to the use of more than $22 million in money declared surplus from the school system’s second Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which expired at the end of 2008.
The nurses who spoke Tuesday night expressed no complaints about the budget in general, but they are frustrated because they don’t get automatic raises for experience the way teachers and other certified, licensed professionals do in the Cobb County School District.
It’s a point school board Chairwoman Alison Bartlett raised May 4 during the budget presentation to the board. The school system hasn’t given the nurses a raise in years but did force them to take the 2 percent across-the-board austerity pay cut in 2009, and Bartlett said the district should give nurses raises as soon as possible.
Laura Kellar, the nurse at Addison Elementary, said her pay has declined each of her three years in the school system because of the austerity cut and furlough days.
Kellar said it’s an insult that nurses are classified with bus drivers and aren’t treated the same as other licensed professionals. Nurses, she said, are “a necessary and integral part of the school system.”
Bobbi Phillips, the nurse at Hollydale Elementary, said she’s not compensated for her 31 years’ experience as a registered nurse, including nine with Cobb schools.
All the county school systems around Cobb have automatic step increases in pay for nurses, she said, ranging from 10 to 20 steps to reach the maximum level. She blamed that inequitable salary situation for a 30 percent turnover in Cobb school nurses since 2006.
“This is an injustice to your school nurses that needs to be corrected,” Phillips said.
Nurses are not asking for a huge increase, said Julia Plaut, the nurse at Barber Middle School, but just to be treated fairly.
Kathy Flowers, the Compton Elementary nurse, echoed the call for fairness, saying the school system should reward its highly motivated, highly qualified force of nurses.
The students today “are not the students we knew,” said Cynthia Scurry, the nurse at Kemp Elementary. Schools have to accommodate children with diabetes, asthma, food allergies and even cancer, and they need caring, talented nurses to ensure those students remain healthy enough to get an education.
Board members did not comment on the nurses’ statements.
They are scheduled to vote on the final approval of the budget at a work session June 8 at 8:30 a.m. That’s the same meeting when the board will have the opportunity to hire its sole finalist for superintendent, Michael Hinojosa.