What Would You Choose: a School Nurse or a Copier?
Besides teachers, administrators, clerical, and custodial staff what other personnel do schools need to function? What about a school nurse, librarian, school counselor, or school psychologist? What kinds of school personnel should every student have access to on a regular basis? In the past I have sat in on school budget councils where we had to decide between funding a school nurse a few more days per week or purchasing a maintenance plan for our copy machines. This happens a lot, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Funding available from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) usually provides for one day of service for someone like a school nurse. Meanwhile, staff such as attendance counselors, counselors, and school psychologists would have to be funded through the individual school site budget.
The issue of essential school personnel is a huge roadblock in the heated negotiations between my union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD. Besides fully staffed schools, our union is also asking for a decrease in class-sizes and an 8.5 percent raise, which would be the first since 2007 (the cost of living index has risen by 13.8 percent since then). Right now the district says it cannot afford to give schools all the personnel that UTLA wishes, along with lower class sizes, and a raise for teachers.
For a long time now, LAUSD classroom teachers have had to step up to cover shortfalls in the district's budget by taking furlough days, attending to student illness, counseling troubled students, calling home to find out why students are absent, and standing in as the school librarian, not to mention buying supplies for our classrooms. All this while dealing with new demands like new Common Core State Standards, Breakfast-in-the Classroom, a new online attendance system -My Integrated Student Information System (MiSiS), grading, and updated scheduling program, which requires me to take attendance twice: once online and again on paper. Elementary teachers must also teach physical education, art, and music along with reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. If I'm lucky, my students will get one set of six-week art instruction lessons with a roving teacher for art, music, dance, or drama.
I do many of these things gladly for the benefit of my students, but in the interest of keeping special projects going, I feel that my district has forgotten about that all these positions represent essential personnel that every student deserves.
So UTLA is fighting not only for a deserved raise but for adequate personnel in our schools on a regular basis: a full-time nurse at every school for five days a week; attendance counselors assigned full time for every 1,000 or so students; one full-time school counselor per 400 students for secondary schools in addition to a college and career counselor for every high school. Secondary schools would also be guaranteed a full-time teacher librarian; elementary schools would get a teacher librarian two days per week (Elementary schools and many secondary schools have librarian aides who are non-certificated employees; basically the equivalent of a teacher's aide).
One last question: do these demands around school personnel seem unreasonable and reckless to you?