Money for 12 New School Nurses Fails To Make Final County Budget

Money for 12 New School Nurses Fails To Make Final County Budget

Council agrees to add 2 mental health therapists, supports Linkages to Learning program

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Next year’s $5.8 billion Montgomery County budget will not include funding for a dozen new school nurses.

Attempts by the County Council to put $1.2 million in the budget as it debated spending priorities last week didn’t pass although $200,000 was approved for two mental health therapists to serve two schools each.

The council also approved more than $75,000 for the Linkages to Learning program, which partners with schools to provide health, social and community support services.

A need for additional mental health services had been a frequent topic raised during public budget forums that the council held in April.

Council member Gabe Albornoz, who chairs the health and human services committee, said the committee spent the last two months deliberating over the budget and the “needs of the community are outpacing the county’s ability to fulfill those needs.”

“We did our best to reconcile the funding and put back some of the funding,” he said. “We’re going to need more revenue and more resources if we’re going to meet the needs of our growing community.”

Albornoz had written a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich on April 29, requesting a budget adjustment to provide funding for the 12 additional nurses.

In the letter, he noted that Montgomery County Public Schools has a nurse-to-student ratio of 1 to 1,660. The data excludes 16 schools that include health and wellness centers, and those serving students with special needs, which employ multiple health professionals.

The 190 schools comprise a population of 147,777 enrolled students. Albornoz wrote that the request for additional nurses will ensure that there is a dedicated nurse in every high school, middle school and the largest elementary schools.

“This recommendation is consistent with the 2016 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends a full-time nurse in every school,” he wrote.

Comparatively, Prince George’s County’s school system, which has a population of more than 131,000 students, has a nurse-to-student ratio of 1 nurse per 693 students, and Baltimore County’s 113,000-student system has a ratio of 1 nurse per 647 students (there are some exceptions for schools with high special needs populations).

Albornoz said in the short-term, the council was able to increase contracts with nonprofits that provide health and wellness services to schools by 3%.

“They [nonprofits] are really an extension of our county infrastructure and deliver to the residents who need the most. But those organizations, like any, have administrative challenges,” he said.

Elrich has yet to name a permanent health and human services director — one of 10 top-level cabinet vacancies he must fill. It was one of three positions in the county for which the Bethesda recruiting firm Krauthamer & Associates has been hired to conduct a national search.

The County Council is scheduled to take a final vote Thursday on the budget for fiscal 2020 that begins July 1.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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