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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Budget would cut job of school nurse

HOLLIS – The proposed elimination of a primary school nurse in next year’s budget drew the ire of several parents and voters who attended the school’s public hearing Tuesday night.

“My kid has issues. There are eight in the second grade with autism, asthma, autoimmune disorders, allergies,” said Tammy Freed of Winding Valley Road. “The vulnerability of kids today is higher, and the school nurse at the primary school is one of the premiums I am perfectly happy to pay for.”

Principal Liz Allen said the proposed cut would not put students in danger.

“If we felt that we put the students in harm’s way, we wouldn’t do this,” Allen said, explaining how she arrived at her decision.

Regardless, Jennifer Cahill of Hannah Drive said the position should be restored.

“I have one child with autism, two with asthma, and one who may have a seizure disorder,” Cahill told the board, making an appeal to officials to keep the second nurse at the primary school.

The proposed spending plan for next year is lower than the current budget: $9,840,825, not including money warrant articles. That’s 3 percent less than last year’s budget. The Budget Committee has not yet figured out the tax impact.

The budget includes a decrease in staff: one of the two school nurses positions at the primary school has been cut, and a sixth grade teacher at the upper elementary will be moved to the primary school.

Some voters urged the School Board to rescind the proposed school nurse cut, arguing that the number of primary school students with serious health problems warrants a second nurse in the building.

Allen said teachers at the primary school would be asked to take on some health teaching responsibilities such as hand washing, currently handled by the nurse.

“We had to cut somewhere,” Allen said of the decision she shared with upper elementary principal, Candi Fowler. “We could cut a program, increase classroom size or cut a nurse.”

The 3 percent reduction prompted a number of voters to volunteer to pay higher taxes to maintain quality education.

“School is not a burden on the taxpayers. School is the engine of this town,” said Dr. Boris Golasarksy, a candidate for the School Board. “And school is our best insurance against depreciating property values.”

The School Board’s proposed spending plan, developed with guidance from the town’s Budget Committee, reflects decreased costs in special education, the result of students receiving special services transferring to the Cooperative School District.

Basil Mason of South Merrimack Road was looking for deeper cuts. Mason is a candidate for the Budget Committee who is advocating for SB 2, a legal change that would replace Town Meeting with a Deliberative Session and ballot voting,

“Teachers are non-residents. Students don’t pay taxes,” Mason said, arguing that retired residents shouldn’t be asked to shoulder an expense that gives them no return on their investment.

After Budget Committee Chairman Chris Hyde parsed the 12 proposed warrant articles and provided tax impact details, John Anderson, a candidate for the Board of Selectmen, and Steve Pucci, chairman of the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board’s budget committee, questioned the School Board about the district’s student activities account, and how it is overseen.

“Why is this not in the budget?” Anderson asked.

Anderson also asked the School Board to provide an update on water issues in the district. Over the past year, the School District has had to deal with water contamination and a boil order as well as shortages resulting from a drought.

School Board member Bill Beauregard explained that money to pay for water-related expenses is budgeted in the maintenance line of the annual budget.

Maryann Shanley of Buttonwood Drive arrived at the public hearing at 9:50 p.m., just as it was concluding. Shanley said she had been watching at home on the cable access channel and felt compelled to show her support for the School District in person.

“I put my faith in the leadership. I prefer zero or a budget that goes up, not a 3 percent cut,” the resident said. “I think our schools need a lot of support. They’re our biggest industry in town.”