Philipsburg-Osceola school board cuts five jobs, will reconsider nurse position

Philipsburg-Osceola school board cut five positions Tuesday, but tabled one other post for more discussion.

The gymnasium at Philipsburg Elementary was packed, with many attending in response to Jim Verbeck’s surprise plan delivered at the May 14 committee meeting, a plan that would have cut a laundry list of positions, including teachers, custodians, food-service workers, a nurse and a counselor, in addition to other positions vacant due to retirements. The board tried to head off some protests by having Linda Bush, the personnel committee chairman, give a revised proposal before public comment was received.

The new plan would cut a certified nurse, two employees from building and grounds position and two more from food service, a librarian, and a music teacher, while adding two teachers, one in special education and one in kindergarten. That plan, said Bush, would save the district a total of $289,026. Unlike the first proposal, which was put together without her, Bush’s presentation had input from the administration and affected departments.

Still, not all stakeholders were mollified.

“This is the first time in all my years as president (of the Philipsburg-Osceola Education Association) that the association was not notified of furloughs or cuts before they were put on the agenda,” said Brad Siegfried. “The association cannot support the cutting of some of these positions.” He maintained the district will still see significant savings in replacing higher salaried retirees in some of those positions with lower salaried newcomers.

Overall, some of the greatest concerns centered on the nurse position. The district is required by the state to have one certified nurse per 1,500 students. With about 1,800 students spread over five schools currently, the district is required to have just two, but has four certified nurses and one registered nurse health assistant. The proposal would still have one nurse per building, but a certified nurse can do certain things an RN cannot, including some reports and meetings on patient care.

Parents like Brian Soltys want to see the numbers maintained. His daughter is diabetic and asthmatic. His son also has asthma. Both have daily interactions with the nurses, sometimes hourly. Having the right medical care in each building is important to him, especially since Philipsburg is a 20 minute ride from the closest hospital in case of emergency.

Michelle Day is part of the reason the schools have such a large nursing presence now. Eleven years ago, she advocated aggressively for more coverage when her son, who has a severe peanut allergy, started school. In the fall, he will be a junior, and she feels more comfortable with him managing his condition, but she worries about other parents going through what she did when he started school.

“The safety and health of our kids is most important,” she said.

In the end, some board members questioned the move, specifically why a certified nurse was being removed rather than an RN. Board member Nancy Lamb suggested it was because the certified position cost about $19,000 more than the RN, but that it would be more efficient to dissolve the RN position.

The board put off a decision on the nursing position for further discussion. It did dissolve the other five positions, as well as two special education assistants and the vacant public relations/grant coordinator position.

Another position on the list for cutting was the principal at Osceola Mills Elementary. A proposal had been planned to eliminate Linda Smutz’s job, putting OME and Philipsburg Elelmentary both under Jeffrey Baker’s leadership. However, a last minute addition to the agenda saw a different kind of change.

The board approved a plan that would shuffle administrators to the current schools. Current Junior High Principal Robin Stewart was planned to move to the new middle school as a team with current North Lincoln Hill Elementary Principal Linda Kline-Shaffer. Instead, Kline-Shaffer will be the sole middle school principal as Stewart takes the reins at the high school. Smutz will move to PE and Baker to OME.

That was still a move that was questioned.

“What is the wisdom of the switch?” asked OME parent Noel Meyers, who presented the board with a petition signed by about 150 people regarding the board’s recent actions.

“Hopefully it’s to raise academic achievement in the other building,” said former board member Bob Selfridge. OME recently posted significant increases in standardized test scores, including topping state averages in science testing.

Board President Rebecca Timchak said the board is trying to respond to concerns from the public.

“This is for them. They have the right to come here and be heard,” she said. However, she could not comment on the administrative changes.

The principal shuffle is due in part to high school Principal Jeffrey Hartmann accepting another position. However, his resignation has not yet been presented or accepted at a board meeting.