By Brenda Porter-Rockwell
After two years of emails, speeches and bake sales, a group of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parents will finally get their wish: one nurse in every school.
In a vote Tuesday evening, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners approved a $1.5 billion budget, which included $1.8 million in funding for 33 new CMS public-health school nurses, bringing the total number up to 161 for the 2014-15 academic year. The money will also cover another three school-nurse supervisors.
Teri Saurer, founder of N. C. Parents Advocating for School Health, the group that pushed for the increased school-nurse presence, said she couldn’t be happier.
“This is a huge success for the parents and children of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The comfort to parents is invaluable. It could be potentially life saving,” said Saurer, mother of a 7-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 9 months old and allergies to several types of nuts at 3 years old.
Saurer said she believes nurses are needed to both provide routine care and tend to children in crisis situations. She began researching the lack of full-time nurses in CMS after realizing a nurse was only present two or three days a week at Ballantyne Elementary, where she enrolled her daughter.
Federal guidelines recommend one school nurse for every 750 students. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have one nurse for approximately every 1,100 students, according to Evelyn Stitt, the interim school health deputy division director for the Mecklenburg County Health Department, which oversees nurses in the school district. Charlotte-Mecklenburg does have full-time nurses in several schools with larger student populations.
When Saurer founded N. C. Parents Advocating for School Health two years ago, the ratio was one to 1,200. In the 2013-14 school year, the ratio increased to one to 1,100. With the new funding, the ratio will be 1 to 900 in the new school year. That’s 161 nurses for 161 schools.
This victory is a big step forward, said Saurer, pointing to the advocacy efforts of the parent group and its supporters, who include Commissioner Kim Ratliff, Mecklenburg County Health Director Marcus Plescia and County Manager Dena Diorio.
Last year, when the 2013-14 county budget passed, funding was provided for 11 new nurses and two more nurse supervisors.
Saurer said she is impressed by how much support for the group has grown since its inception. She estimated that about 10 parents were interested in 2012 and more than 100 now want to get involved. More than 300 people also “like” the group’s Facebook page.
The group is expanding its cause throughout North Carolina, including working with parents in Iredell, Union and Wake counties to bring more nurses to their school systems – and the Wake County Public School System will soon see an increase in school nurses. On Monday, its board of county commissioners approved funding for 10 additional public-school nurses as part of its $1 billion budget for 2014-15.
The new positions will bring the total number of nurses in Wake County schools up to 72, shared among 170 schools.