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Washington Co. residents voice concerns about school-nurse layoffs

June 12, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Loren Villa, whose school-age son has Type 1 diabetes, criticizes a recent decision to eliminate funding for the school nurse program in Washington County Public Schools during a Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday at Smithsburg Town Hall.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG — Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said Tuesday night that there was a plan in place for Washington County Public Schools to pick up funding for a school nursing program if the county had to pay a portion of teacher pensions.

Speaking to standing-room-only crowd of 65 people gathered at Smithsburg Town Hall, Murray said the plan was designed to allow for a seamless continuation of the school nursing program.

He said county officials were shocked when the Washington County Health Department began sending layoff notices to all 76 school nurses last week.

“The health department made it a crisis,” Murray said.

But some people like Phil Daniels of Hagerstown weren’t buying Murray’s account.

“I think you’re putting a political spin on this Mr. Murray,”  Daniels said.

Heidi Welsh said she found the whole situation “disgusting and  appalling” and said the Washington County Board of Commissioners was merely passing the buck.

“I wish I could vote you out,” Welsh said to Murray.

Four of the five commissioners were in Smithsburg as part of an ongoing series of meetings so members can hear about issues in various communities.

But the meeting was dominated by the controversy surrounding the layoff of school nurses.

Commissioner William B. McKinley said he would have never voted for a $3.3 million cut from a program that provides nurses and other health care professionals to schools if there was a chance that Washington County Public Schools was not going to pick up the cost.

Commission President Terry Baker said it was always his intent to protect jobs in the budget process and keep “calm” in the community.

“Not one commissioner here wants to keep the best nurses from our schools,” Baker said.

Murray said county and school officials had discussed the plan for the school system to take over funding of the nurse program if the county had to pick up a portion of teacher pensions. Murray said the school system had already started picking up some of the costs.

But parents and those affiliated with the school nursing program expressed their frustration and concerns over the layoffs.

Hagerstown resident Loren Villa, a county public defender whose son has Type 1 diabetes, said the school nursing program has been perfected by the health department for 16 years.

“There was a system in place that worked. Now the concern is there will be a Band-Aid put in place. This is my child. This is my county,” said Villa, whose remarks drew a round of applause from the crowd.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham told Villa that the “buck stops here.” She told Villa and others to call the commissioners if they believe any child is not getting what he or she needs.

Jane Malphrus, a supervisor in the school nurse program, said there are many concerns and questions in the community about the future of the program.

“How can we, the school health staff, help bridge this program?” Malphrus asked.

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