MALIBU — Members of the Malibu Parent Teacher Student Association packed the Malibu High School library Thursday morning to question two members of the school board about issues facing the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Vice President Ben Allen and newly-elected member Nimish Patel attended the meeting as part of an ongoing district effort to better include the distant Malibu schools in conversations about the direction of the district.
“I’ve been involved with the PTA for a few years,” said Wendy S, a Malibu parent who ran the meeting. “I’ve never had any board member reach out to me and ask, ‘Can I come to a meeting?’”
High on the agenda was the fate of registered nurses, who are facing layoffs given the uncertain financial situation handed down from the state Legislature, class-sharing opportunities between Santa Monica and Malibu high schools and a new focus group to make it easier for the parent community to reach out to the rest of the district.
Nurse Anne Ernst addressed the parents and board members about the dangers of reducing the nursing staff at the schools and replacing them with health clerks with less training.
“They have no training, or experience,” Ernst said. “They can apply Band-Aids. They can’t assess the difference between anxiety, an appendix problem, major or minor injuries.”
Health clerks also don’t have the ability to refer students to doctors, nor give vouchers for free care, two major drawbacks in times where families are strapped for cash and nurses become the first line of defense for health care.
“When kids aren’t healthy, they can’t learn,” Ernst said.
Ernst said eight nurses received pink slips, up from the 6.6 nursing positions that the board of education had approved for cuts.
The district is looking for creative solutions to the health care problem, including reaching out to local partners, Patel said.
“St. John’s gives a $75,000 grant for health care,” Patel said. “We’re always looking for those kinds of partnerships.”
Part of the solution may be bringing in Licensed Vocational Nurses, which receive less training than a registered nurse, but more than a health clerk, Allen said.
A special committee was formed to examine the options. It will be reporting back to the board in coming months.
In the meantime, Allen acknowledged, the pink slips that the board approved are a painful, but necessary, step to give the board flexibility to solve the district’s budget problems, as 85-90 percent of district expenditures go to personnel.
“Everyone gets stressed, it hurts morale and long-time employees feel disrespected,” he said. “It’s a terrible system.”
On a more positive note, parents concerned about dwindling class choices were relieved to hear that the district is making inroads on teleconferencing classes between Samohi and Malibu High in an effort to consolidate small but valuable classes like advanced placement courses that may only have a few students.
A successful test of the system took place in February, and teachers have signed onto the project. It’s unclear exactly when the first class out of Malibu or Samohi will be conferenced.
“We lost an AP chemistry [class], and that’s another whole class,” said Fiona Corrigan. “We don’t want the choices to get less and less.”
Finally, PTSA representatives from the various schools in Malibu met Wednesday night with Patel and Allen in an effort to plant seeds for a Malibu version of Community for Excellent Public Schools, or CEPS, an advocacy group in Santa Monica.
Allen strongly supported the concept, which he felt would help keep lines of communication open between the district and the entire school population, rather than just isolated school sites.
“There aren’t a lot of places for the Malibu community to get together and talk about school issues,” Allen said.