The Hayden administration has backed down from its decision to charge private and parochial schools $175 a day for public health nurses. Instead, Baltimore County government has agreed to a compromise that would halve the number of nurses in those schools.
That means 34 private schools will have to share the services of 11 nurses for the rest of the school year.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden still could decide to cut the money for the private school nursing positions in next year's budget. But parents and private school officials nonetheless were grateful for the compromise.
"It's an answer to a prayer," said Sister Joan Kelly, principal of St. Ursula's School in Parkville. "I knew we were going to lose students because we have students who do need [a nurse's] care," she said. "Anything is better than nothing."
The change in Mr. Hayden's position came after strong opposition by private school parents and the County Council to charging the schools a fee for a service they had been receiving for free. The county is trying to eliminate a projected $14.4 million budget shortfall before June 30. Making the schools pay for the nurses would have saved the county $490,000 over one year.
But the council, reluctant to endorse Mr. Hayden's plan, disputed County Attorney Lee Park's contention that the administration can impose new fees without the council's approval. Council members asked the executive to submit the appropriate legislation.
In a letter this week to Council Chairman William A. Howard, R-6th, county Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly said that legislation would take so long to prepare and be acted on that the county wouldn't save enough money before June to make it worthwhile.
Mr. Kelly said the county instead will take 10 of the 21 publicly paid nurses from private schools to fill public school vacancies that were created by retirements this year. The remaining 11 nurses will divide their time among the private schools.
Mr. Kelly said the revised plan still will save the county about $180,000 because the retired nurses will not be replaced.
County Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, said he objected to the suddenness of Mr. Hayden's original decision which, he said, would have left the schools unable to make budget adjustments in the middle of an academic year. He said the compromise "is fair, considering the circumstances."
Nancy Casper, who has been the nurse at St. Ursula's School for almost seven years, said she was "extremely relieved" that students there would receive at least part-time health care, but she cautioned against too much optimism.
"From now until June, this is a much fairer way of approaching things," she said. "But what happens then?"
Sister Joan, describing St. Ursula's budget as "tighter than the county's," said she didn't know what the school would do without a nurse. She said St. Ursula's probably would have to count on 911 emergency services or help from public school nurses when accidents or injuries occur that require experience beyond what teachers can offer.
Several officials from county parochial schools said trying to get help from parent volunteers would be next to impossible.
"How can you get volunteers when there's nobody out there to volunteer?" asked Diana Harrison, the nurse at St. Pius X in the 6400 block of York Road. "Why do you think parents send their kids to school when they're sick? They can't stay home."