AISD Notebook

Will it be "Good- night, nurse" in AISD? As part of their budget deliberations, the AISD school board is poised to consider a partnership proposal, engineered by Superintendent Jim Fox, with Seton Hospital to put a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) at each AISD elementary campus during the 1996-97 school year. The program would be exanded to include all secondary campuses next year. The LVNs, with just one year of training, would be supervised by seven of AISD's college-degreed, registered nurses (RNs). Phasing out the rest of the district's 31 full- and part-time RNs and replacing them with 80 LVNs would cost around $1 million -- about what AISD spends now on its health program.

At the Monday meeting of the AISD Board of Trustees, a few part-time school nurses (who will get the ax if the board goes forward with the proposal), joined by a couple of pediatricians, and a number of parents, protested the plan. Two RNs, Ann Steck and Jo Hollfelder, who currently share a full-time position serving 600 children at 31 AISD schools, told the board they frequently must render life-saving procedures to medically fragile children, and questioned whether the plan on the table would still serve those children. Dr. John Hellerstadt, a pediatrician, told the board that with their more complete education, RNs are far better qualified to evaluate health complaints than LVNs. "There's no replacing the kind of experience and training an RN has," he said.

Parent Eva Esparza criticized the proposal for being too sketchy in detail, especially since trustees wouldn't have all the facts about it until sometime in August, well after the June 20 public hearing on the budget and the June 24 budget adoption. "Please do not risk our tax dollars for an unknown," Esparza said. "Would there really be no additional costs? What if this doesn't work out? What is the cost of reverting back?"

Esparza's question is relevant in light of the fact that one school district did exactly that -- replaced its RNs with health aides (who have slightly less training than even LVNs) in 1990, and began bringing the nurses back two years later. "We did the same thing (AISD is considering)," said Jim Cummings, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. "It didn't work." These lesser-trained and less experienced health care workers could not handle many of the inevitable emergencies that came up on campuses, he said; parents and students complained, even taking their protest to the Arizona Legislature. "So we had to ask ourselves: Are we being penny-wise and pound-foolish?" Cummings said.

Seton officials are supposed to deliver a letter of intent to the board this week in order to continue negotiations with AISD. At least two trustees, Geoff Rips and Ted Whatley, have already been soured on the idea. Trustee Tom Agnor believes that other governmental entities have the responsibility to furnish health services and that the board should guard against using AISD's resources for non-instructional initiatives.

In board action: Trustees approved a number of new principals at several secondary schools and an elementary school. Ortega Elementary principal Lynda Tinsley, who initiated a number of innovations on that low-income, Eastside campus, will be the new principal of Murchison Middle School in Northwest Austin. Her replacement at Ortega has not been named. n

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