Much of Thursday’s discussion about Pinellas County’s budget centered on school nurses – or the lack of them in a proposed spending list for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
“The school nurses are not in the recommendations,” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard told commissioners.
It was an unpopular omission from the $15.7 million list.
“We’re either going to pay now or later,” Commissioner Karen Seel said. “I’d rather grow healthy children.”
Seel was the driving force behind a proposal to shift some of the money that is raised for the health department so it could fund a dental program for $179,000 and seven LPNs for $264,089. The dental program was on the list. The nurses were not.
The nurses were destined for the seven neediest schools in the Pinellas County School District: Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose, all in St. Petersburg; and Sandy Lane and High Point in Clearwater. All are elementaries. All have a high percentage of poor children.
“These are the schools with the highest poverty level in the county, the greatest need,” school board chair Peggy O’Shea said. “These kids, for a lot of different reasons, don’t have access to health care.”
Pinellas schools receive no funding to pay for school nurses, Superintendent Michael Grego said. While the district does have health clinics at four high schools and some nurses, it cannot afford to pay for them.
“This is a major community issue,” Grego said.
Commissioner Janet Long agreed, saying, “If we don’t look after anybody, we need to take care of our children. They are the future.”
Woodard said he heard their message and would try to find funds for at least some of the nurses.
O’Shea said she hoped the county would be able to fund all seven.