School nurses fear loss of funding

A proposed $30 million cut to the state's 2010 budget could put school nurses in jeopardy.

If Georgia's General Assembly approves the cut, local school systems would be left shouldering the entire burden of funding the positions.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to maintain funding," said Carol Rountree, Richmond County's director of student services. "I'm hopeful. That's all I can say at this point."

Richmond County has more "medically fragile" pupils than she has ever seen, she said, stressing the need for nurses on staff. Nurses tend daily to children with diabetes, asthma and other ailments requiring regular care and medication.

"Without a nurse, I don't know how we would cover these services," Dr. Rountree said.

At some schools, nurses dispense more than 40 prescription medications each day, she said. A school can't allow children to carry medications around campus, and young children shouldn't be expected to have such a large responsibility, she said.

"It's not going to be an easy cut, if that's where (Gov. Sonny Perdue) decides to cut," Dr. Rountree said.

Controller Gene Spires said the amount Richmond County received from the state this year for school nurses was more than $535,000, about 43 percent of the total cost of the system's 32 nurses.

It wouldn't be easy to absorb a cut that size, Mr. Spires said. If anything, the school system needs more nurses, he said.

Columbia County's head school nurse, Lisa Whitlock, said she has been assured no nurses will be laid off. Senior school administrators have told her that nurses provide a valuable service they can't imagine doing without, she said.

In 2008, schoolchildren visited Columbia County's 19 nurses 92,985 times.

Joanne Giel, the president of the Georgia Association of School Nurses, said she didn't learn of the proposal until seeing it in the budget.

"I was pretty shocked. I didn't think this would really ever occur," she said. "Even with budget cuts, we find we offer a valuable service."

The line item for school nurses is the only item in the Department of Education's budget that is eliminated, she said.

Ms. Giel said nurses are being mobilized to call lawmakers to lobby them to preserve the funding.

As for the chances the money will be saved, "Right now, it's anybody's guess," she said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.