School's Secretaries Sick Of Being Nurses

February 20, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

No one told Jo Ann Seabrease, a school secretary, that she would spend more time taking temperatures than typing letters. No one mentioned that most of her job would involve dabbling in an area in which shehad virtually no training.

"When you apply for a job as a secretary, you know you are going to use typing and shorthand, but I had no idea that is only about 10 percent of the job," Seabrease said. "The rest is taking care of health needs, especially during the flu season."

Since school opened in September at Sunset Elementary, Seabrease and part-time secretary Carol Jackson have seen 1,015 sick students, afflicted with everything from bloody noses and stomach aches to epileptic seizures and concussions.

"The (school) board has come a long way in providing (legal) protection for us by requiring that medical forms be filled out by the doctor and parent before we give medicine," Seabrease said. "Now, you can't give a child a cough drop withouta medical form being filled out. There are so many factors involved that could be dangerous. Fortunately, we haven't had any major catastrophes."

For years, secretaries have begged the Board of Educationfor relief, pointing out that the school system employs no nurses atthe elementary school level. This year, they won a small victory when School Superintendent Larry Lorton included 12 health assistants, at a cost of $175,000, in his proposed 1991-1992 budget. The board is scheduled to act on those recommendations and adopt its operating andcapital budgets during a meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight at its Riva Road headquarters.

But gloomy fiscal forecasts from the county may mean a swift death for those 12 positions.

Within her first 45 minutes on the job yesterday, Jackson repeatedly was interrupted from her normal duties -- typing letters, calling parents, checking inventory and paying school bills -- to insert thermometers in the mouths of students filling the two beds in the health room across from her desk, bandage a cut finger and make sure parents signed the book to take a sick student home.

"It would be nice to have training," said Jackson, who came to work in the school four years ago after serving as a parent volunteer. "I would love to have a school nurse. This morning, I spent all my time helping children."

Schools work with the county Health Department only on head lice checks or collecting data about specific diseases. Twice this year, the secretaries hadto dial 911 when illnesses were too severe to wait for parents. One case involved a student who was dizzy and losing consciousness; in the other case, a student fell and was bleeding profusely from his head.

But despite the arguments for school nurses, getting them seems as unlikely as ever. Lorton has recommended a $358.7 million operating budget, an 8.7 percent increase over current spending levels, and a$43.9 million capital budget.

Board members, realizing their budget will face tough scrutiny from County Council members, said the request for health assistants probably won't survive.

"We don't have enough health aides for special ed," board member Paul Greksa said. "In terms of the health issue, I don't see any possibility of that this year. The county has painted a dismal picture."

Both Greksa and board member Vincent Leggett said their priorities are focused on maintaining small student-teacher ratios and continuing plans for ISIS, the system-wide integrated computer system.

"The main thing for meis trying to maintain pupil-teacher ratios that we have worked hard over the last seven to eight years to lower," Leggett said. "I think the classroom teacher is on the front line, and we should do everything we can to support that position."

Board member Dorothy Chaney said she was pleased with the amount of support parents have given them this year.

"It seems as though parents have exercised restraint in their requests," she said. "I think the emphasis will be on staffing because of the projections (of an additional 1,500 students next year). From my perspective, I can't see any new positions other than teaching."

At the very least, board members agree that their task tonight will not be easy in an increasingly complicated school environment. The board is $1 million short of addressing this year's $8 million deficit, and the County Council has passed a resolution against helping them out.

On the labor front, secretary and teacher unions have broken off salary negotiations with the board, and County Executive Robert R. Neall has said county employees may be forced to do without pay increases.

There are also new demands from Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the State Board of Education's Maryland School Performance Program -- including additional pressures on school systems to perform well on the state's functional tests.

The budget request is due to the county executive by March 1. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled in May before the County Council, and the final budget is scheduled to be adopted by the county on June 15.

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