School nurses have long been a treasured resource in the Santa Monica/Malibu Schools. School RNs are professional nurses with extensive training specific to school nursing. They are the first line of defense any time a student on campus needs help because of illness or injury. School nurses have the professional training and expertise to make the decisions that can make the difference in how a child is treated, skills that are crucial in any urgent situation or emergency. RNs are trained and licensed to administer medications. They are health educators for our students, staff, and school families. Historically, they have led the way on important health initiatives in the schools. And, fortunately for Santa Monica, because of the continuity of their work, they know the students and their families personally and have, over and over, been the ones to notice and help when there are students with serious problems at school or at home.
Yet school nurses holding 5.6 “full-time equivalent” positions were issued potential lay off notices at the School Board meeting of Feb. 17, with one “no” vote from Board Member Ralph Mechur (Board Member Leon Vasquez was not present).
Board Members who voted “yes” emphasized that the potential layoff notices were being issued as a precautionary measure and would help the district maintain needed flexibility with its budget if the Governor’s proposal, as part of his plan to balance the budget, does not prevail in the proposed June elections. And the district has convened a task force to study and make alternate recommendations to the board about providing health care on our campuses.
While the immediate problem is real, are we asking the right question? Are we addressing this problem at the right level? Governor Brown’s proposed June election asking the voters for a five-year extension to continue current personal income and sales taxes, as well as the Vehicle License Fee rate comes with the promise that revenue from the sales tax and the vehicle license fee will be transferred directly to local governments and, the Governor states, “one area of state spending that will be spared from further cuts is kindergarten through 12th grade education.”
The Governor’s spending plan assumes that all statutory changes to implement budget actions will be adopted by the legislature in March, allowing the necessary ballot measures to be put before the people at a June special election and that the measure will pass. Without that we will see further cuts in K-12 education spending.
Senator Fran Pavley, with her long history in pubic education, believes “It’s imperative that we invest in our children and prepare them to compete in a global economy. We simply can’t afford to cut education any further. I urge Californians to support Governor Brown’s proposal to maintain existing taxes for another five years in order to avoid catastrophic cuts – cuts that could result in a generation of students who would be deprived of the kind of quality education they deserve.”
Even if the tax extensions pass, Santa Monicans know that State funding will not be enough. Our City does much to support our students. City Manager Rod Gould said, “$7.8 million will go from the City to the School District this year and that number will go to $8 million next fiscal year and that’s before Measure Y. Measure Y funding is anticipated to add $5.5 million to the school budget in the coming fiscal year.”
So why don’t we have the money to keep our treasured school nurses, our full faculty, our music programs, our sports programs? In short, why can’t we be the school district we once were?
Is the problem bigger than our City and bigger than our State? When persons as divergent as David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, and the filmmaker, Michael Moore, identify the growing wealth gap and bad economic policy as the issue, the issue becomes one of national priorities and national values.
While we can’t opt out of being part of the national or state economy, we need to do everything we can to provide education here. Maybe we should be planning for the education we want and then focus on how to get there knowing that, at least in the immediate future, neither the Federal nor the State governments are going to support education in the way it once did in our country.
We can hope for, and vote for, the Governor’s plan, but we know it is not sufficient to fund the schools our children need and deserve. We may need to think differently, both about education and about funding. We may need more support from other parts of our community. But we need to do something. Right now we’re not thinking big enough and it’s our children who need us to “think bigger.”
What Say You?