Visalia Unified nursing cuts

VISALIA, Calif.

Houston Elementary School is just one of many schools that no longer has a nurse on campus every day. Administrators say the district is operating at bare minimums and are worried what will happen if the state budget crisis gets worse.

From little fix-its to serious head injuries, Connie Tavarez manages most Houston Elementary students' sicknesses. Lately, though, Tavarez's days have become numbered. "I'm here 3 days a week previous to that it was 4 days and next year it'll be 2 days."

Visalia Unified has not filled six nursing positions vacant over the last two years. The move has saved the district $400-thousand, but it has also meant fewer nurses at elementary and middle schools. All district elementary and middle schools now have just one nurse on campus one day a week. Tavarez spends extra time at Houston thanks to funding from the First 5 program.

Superintendent Craig Wheaton says the situation isn't ideal, but it's all they can afford right now. "We won't be able to keep it up we're almost at the end of our tools in our tool box to do this without layoffs we've been very proud of the fact we've been able to reduce our work force through attrition and not hurt individual people."

Tavarez said, "Symptoms like unusual behavior or bad headache symptoms a nurse would be able to pick up to refer or call 9-1-1 a secretary is not trained to do that so it's kinda scary."

Visalia Unified has also cut down on the number of administrators at each school, and eliminated Visalia Police Youth Services Officers at all middle and elementary schools.

Wheaton said, "So in an emergency now they call 9-1-1 just like anyone else and a regular officer responds to that just like they would if it was a crime on the street."

Few teachers have been laid off, the district has just decided not to replace most retirees, and increase some class sizes. In order to prevent class sizes from growing too big, the district is expected to hire 20 new elementary school teachers this fall.

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