Parents of children attending the two parochial schools in the North Syracuse Central School District descended on the board of education Monday night to implore them to reconsider a decision they say could have fatal consequences.
On Feb. 24, at its regular meeting, the NSCSD BOE voted to cut the full-time registered nurse position at St. Rose of Lima School in North Syracuse as well as the full-time registered nurse position at St. Margaret’s School in Mattydale. The board then voted to create one full-time position and one part-time position to be shared between the two schools. The reduction would leave each school without a nurse for about two hours a day.
The decision came about a month after St. Rose’s full-time nurse resigned from her position. The district has been paying a substitute. They opted to cut the position instead of hiring a new full-time nurse for St. Rose, which has many parents worried about their children’s health and safety.
“I have documentation of children actually dying [in schools where a nurse wasn’t present],” said St. Rose parent Tracy Amato. “At least six children died last year of… diabetes, allergy attacks and an acute asthma attack. Today, you had a student [at Cicero-North Syracuse High School] rushed to the emergency room [after being injured in a welding class]. All I can say is, thank God C-NS had a nurse.”
Superintendent Annette Speach said last week that the decision was made in order to be more responsive to North Syracuse district taxpayers, but several parents pointed out that they pay taxes in the district in addition to tuition at the private schools.
“We’re all taxpayers here,” said Michelle Michlovich, whose daughter, an insulin-dependent diabetic, attends St. Rose. “I’ve lived in the Cicero area for 10 years. I pay taxes. How are you helping me by cutting a full-time nurse for my daughter?”
There are a total of 550 students between the two schools, many of whom have chronic conditions or allergies that require medication to be administered by a health professional.
Amato said she understood that she had made the choice to send her child to parochial school, but she didn’t realize the decision could have such potentially dangerous consequences.
“I pay taxes, and I pay tuition,” she said. “You’re right. I chose to send my daughter to private school. But I did not choose to put my child in danger. You’re making that choice.”
Board President Pat Carbone defended the board’s vote, pointing to the budgetary crisis in which the district has been mired for the last five years.
“It was a very difficult decision, but you see what we’re faced with in this budget,” Carbone said. “We looked at what we’ve had to cut over the last three or four years… and we’re looking at a $1.7 million deficit in this year’s budget. We had to make that decision.”
Carbone said the district looked at the cost of providing nursing to the two parochial schools, as well as the example set by other area districts in a similar position. North Syracuse, he said, was doing more than required by the law and couldn’t afford to do so any longer.
“We realize it’s a challenge,” he said. “We’re offering all the assistance we can to St. Rose and St. Margaret’s during the transition, and we’re also working with the diocese… they can elect to supplement those services [and bring back the full-time nurse].”
No decision was made at the board meeting Monday night, and it was unclear whether the board would reconsider its Feb. 24 vote.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.