SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District may run into legal problems if it tries to lay off six nurses the Board of Education approved for pink slips in February, a labor union representative said.

The cuts would reduce the nursing staff to four. If the nurses are let go, the district has considered hiring “health clerks” or licensed vocational nurses, LVNs, to provide basic health services on some campuses.

At this point, the district doesn’t have a health clerk or LVN position, said Harry Keiley, chief of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association.

Creating those positions, and giving them some of the responsibilities usually reserved for the union-represented nurses, could violate labor agreements.

“An argument would be that any work that the LVNs or health clerks are doing is the work that nurses do,” Keiley said. “Currently, nurses have a very comprehensive job description.”

The district vows to work closely with the union to clarify the issue, said Superintendent Tim Cuneo, although he doesn’t believe there’s a discrepancy.

“We wouldn’t have classified employees doing nurses’ jobs,” Cuneo said. “The health clerk job description is a very different position. We’ll work closely with our unions so that there’s clarity.”

Nurses have a responsibility to evaluate student health, teach good health practices and provide basic health services to students, among a long list of other responsibilities.

They must also have an educational background of a master’s degree or higher in nursing, public health or another closely related field, according to the district’s job description.

Neither the description for the health clerk nor the LVN position have been finalized by the board, which will hear the matter again at a future meeting with the intention to wrap the matter up by April, said board member Ralph Mechur.

Mechur voted against the resolution to approve pink slips for the nursing positions as well as six teaching positions at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting.

“I didn’t see a need to move so quickly,” Mechur said.

A court case working its way through California’s legal system dealing with whether or not one must be a nurse to provide insulin to a diabetic student might turn the decision on its head, Mechur said.

“These are issues we face in difficult times,” he said. “Accepting these budgetary constraints and convincing that similar services can be done by less-trained people, I don’t know if we should convince ourselves of that.”

The union does not support laying off any of the current staff of nurses, although its members both recognize budgetary constraints and want to ensure that the district staffs the largest number of health care providers possible.

Even the excuse of budget problems is overblown, Keiley said, pointing to the $18 million reserves held by the school district.

“The uncertainty is there looking forward relative to whether we’ll be able to get a ballot initiative,” he said, referencing two tax extensions Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to help pay for public schools. “It’s not as dire and bleak as some may espouse.”

At the same time, health care needs of SMMUSD students have risen in the last few years, according to data gathered at the school sites, Keiley said.

Part of the problem stems from children not getting basic health care anywhere else but campus, a trend demonstrated in rising obesity and other ailments.

“The health of our children is paramount to their success as students,” Keiley said. “Some of our children have great medical care through doctors and family, and we know there are others not getting even basic check ups.”

That long-term goal may or may not require keeping nurses after the current batch leaves the system.

“Attrition could play a part in this,” Keiley acknowledged. “That is a softer landing, and one road toward the ultimate finish line of more adults [LVNs instead of nurses] providing maximum health care services to children.”

ashley@smdp.com

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