Administrators at District 97 plan to meet with a group of parents who have expressed concerns about the nurse staffing levels at the elementary and middle schools.

Officials at D97, however, maintain that staffing levels are currently adequate, based on a building’s medical needs, not just student population. Mike Padavic, senior director of special services who oversees special education, said that a meeting with parents is being scheduled.

A handful of parents from Beye and Mann schools, which share a nurse, are concerned that their school doesn’t have one full-time. Seven schools — Whittier, Lincoln, Brooks, Julian, Longfellow, Irving and Holmes — have full-time nurses. The remaining schools share nurses and health clerks. Beye and Mann have a shared clerk and nurse who cover for one another when one is at the other building.

Concerns arose when a child at one of the schools recently suffered an injury when the nurse reportedly wasn’t in the building. The parent took the concern to the district.

Speaking to Wednesday Journal on Thursday, Padavic said the district aims to meet the needs of students at every school, but staffing levels are based on student medical needs at each building. Those may include special-needs students with required feeding tubes or those with severe ailments such as cancer.

“There’s always somebody in the building focusing on those health-related issues. I’m confident our staff is of high quality and the kids’ needs are being met,” Padavic said.

The district has had shared nurses for a few buildings for many years, he noted, adding that, prior to these recently raised concerns, the district has not had any complaints from parents about nurse staffing levels during his tenure, which began in 2009.

But a larger issue, he noted, is the lack of licensed school nurses available in the state of Illinois. Only four universities in the state have school nursing certification programs, he said. Most entering the nursing profession are looking to work in hospitals rather than in schools, where they tend to make less money.

“School nursing is not at the top pay rate,” Padavic said.

In D97, nurse salaries fall under the teacher’s collective bargaining agreement and range from just under $50,000 to $60,000, said Chris Jasculca, D97’s director of policy, planning and communication.

According to 2012 data from  the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for entry-level registered nurses with an associate’s degree is nearly $66,000 a year, with a per-hour pay of about $32. According to the bureau, employment for registered nurses is expected to grow 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. Several factors include increased medical needs for aging Baby Boomers, as well as growing rates of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. Padavic, however, said the employment growth hasn’t materialized in Illinois’ roughly 800 school districts.  

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