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Layoff notices sent to 76 Washington County school nursing employees

Washington County Public Schools chief trying to schedule meeting with county administrator and health officer

June 07, 2012|By DAN DEARTH, JULIE E. GREENE and C.J LOVELACE | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com; julieg@herald-mail.com; c.j.lovelace@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Health Department on Thursday began sending layoff notices to all 76 nurses and other health care workers at county public schools, two days after county commissioners voted to cut funding for the program, a health department official said.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Thursday night that the layoff notices seem premature, but he didn’t know the policies and procedures under which the health department has to operate.

“My sense is there should have been a reasonable time period that we could at least talk about this,” Wilcox said at Clear Spring High School, shortly before Thursday night’s graduation ceremony.

Wilcox said he was trying to schedule a meeting for today with County Administrator Gregory B. Murray and Health Officer Earl Stoner.

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Stoner said that health officials had no other choice after the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this week to cut $3.3 million from a program that provides nurses and other health care professionals to schools.

“We will have no money to pay them (nurses),” he said. “We didn’t necessarily fire them. They’re in the process of receiving layoff notices.”

Stoner said the layoffs are effective June 30.

For now, there will be health services for summer school programs, some of which begin next week, Wilcox said. There is funding for school health services through June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year, he said.

Asked how school health services would be funded for the remainder of the summer, Wilcox said the school system has set aside a small reserve to help cover the cost until a long-term solution can be determined.

Wayne Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said Thursday that the school system will have a nursing program in place for the start of the next school year, but he could not say for certain whether it would be through the county health department.

“We will have a program in place that has nurses and nurses’ aides and what we need to make certain our children are provided for in the upcoming year,” Ridenour said.

There will “be something in place, I guarantee that,” he said.

Wilcox said he thinks the summer school health services will be provided through the county health department, but officials need to meet to figure out the best way to deliver health services to students.

The county had three options to fill a $3 million hole it faced because it must pick up a portion of teacher pensions, and the health department program that provides nurses to public schools got the ax when the five commissioners voted unanimously to approve a fiscal 2012-13 budget, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said.

Murray offered two other choices to offset the shortfall, increasing the property tax or lowering payments to the county employee pension fund. But those options were rejected by the commissioners.

Stoner said the state requires school boards to provide health care workers at schools, but the mandate doesn’t stipulate how local governments should fund the program.

“Historically, it has been the county commissioners,” he said.

Stoner said the health care workers could be rehired if a funding source is found by the end of the month.

The county commissioners had no bearing on the health department’s decision, according to Callaham.

“(Earl Stoner’s decisions) are his decisions,” Callaham said, noting that she had “no knowledge that anyone at the county had instructed him to make that decision.”

“I don’t want anyone laid off, but that’s Mr. Stoner’s decision,” she said. “Not ours.”



Tough choices

The other options were to underfund the county employees’ pension program, which could result in a decreased credit rating for the county, or increasing property taxes by $0.05 per $100 of assessed value, she said.

Callaham said county officials have discussed a “phased approach” that could end with nurses being employed directly by the school system.

Asked if he envisioned a future school nursing program not involving the county health department, Ridenour said: “I don’t know. I can’t say for sure.”

School system officials have “got to look at all avenues,” he said. “The health department is obviously the one we’ve dealt with up to this point. I don’t have enough information to make a judgment on what avenue we’re going to take.”

“It might be exactly the same. (There) might be some tweaks,” Ridenour said.

“We’re not going to do anything that’s going to jeopardize our children.”

On Wednesday, Wilcox said school system officials needed to figure out under what model health services will be provided, where the nurses will come from, and how they will be funded, he said.

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