Palmer prescribes home visits for new school-nurse positions

BERNE — The interim superintendent here is looking to save money by restructuring school-nurse duties.

Lonnie Palmer told the school board on Aug. 12 of his plan not to replace a retiring school nurse with another registered nurse, but to extend the hours of the school’s licensed practical nurse to full-time and keep one full-time registered nurse. The LPN rides the bus with students during the day.

The savings would be put towards two full-time nurses from an outside agency, Palmer said, with a grant through the State University of New York at Albany. The nurses would visit homes and have background in early childhood education, social work, and nursing.

“Right now, they don’t train people for that,” said Palmer, adding that the university would be interested in the project to study its impact on children. He estimated it oculd affect as many as 350 children.

Tracy Salisbury, a registered nurse, said at the beginning of the meeting that she was inquiring about the school-nurse position, for which she had sent her résumé to the district

“That’s quite a stress on one RN,” said Salisbury of responsibility for the whole district. The LPN, she noted, has a more limited scope of practice.

Palmer said he had spoken with the district’s lawyer about liability, and with other districts to compare the number of buildings and nurses.

“They’ve all said ‘Yeah, it works. It may not be ideal, but it works,’” said Palmer. “It depends on the skills of the people that are there.”

School Nurse Colleen DeMuth said she would be concerned that she wouldn’t be able to get to another building in time.

“We have a number of health issues with our students that could change rapidly and be life-threatening,” said DeMuth. Palmer said Tuesday that he had spoken with DeMuth and that she was referring to conditions, such as severe allergies, insulin shots, and asthma inhalers, that the school nurse has to be aware of among students.

“I’m not as worried about the RN, LPN issue because you can always provide training to anybody on your staff to handle emergencies as they come along,” Palmer said Tuesday.

Other business

In other business at its Aug. 12 meeting, the school board:

— Heard from Palmer that he would like to consider uncertified substitute teachers, after considering certified, and that he is discussing such a policy with the Teachers Support Staff union.

“We’re trying to minimize the disruption for our children,” Palmer told the board, noting that such a policy wouldn’t save money;

— Heard from Palmer of plans to consolidate the district’s number of bus aid positions. He said he would be meeting with the union to discuss the reduction of five aids and assistants to 22. Adjusting the schedule, Palmer explained, would allow for a student with an aid to remain with the same person for longer, and fewer positions means the district would pay fewer benefits’ packages;

— Voted, 4 to 0, during its Aug. 12 meeting, to authorize Palmer to sign an agreement sharing food services director Deborah Rosko with the Greenville Central School District. Board member Vasilios Lefkaditis was not present.

The board began talking to Greenville about the inter-municipal agreement this spring. It will save the district about $15,000, according to Palmer. He said considerations about scheduling had been made to ensure Rosko won’t have too many responsibilities, and a head cook will manage the Greenville kitchen when she’s not there. Rosko will spend one day at BKW and four days at Greenville each week.

Board member Chasity McGivern said, “And you’ll be meeting with her to make sure it’s working.”

Palmer confirmed and explained that the board had asked for regular reports on the shared service;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to approve the total tax levy of $10,890,198. The interim business administrator, Mark Kellett, noted that, though the levy is the same as last year, the district would be mailing tax bills that are different from last year. The total market value of all real estate in each town can change, affecting the state-set equalization rates that distribute the tax levy across different municipalities within a district so that like properties are paying similar taxes. Voters passed the 2013-14 budget this May with the same levy amount as the year before.

Kellett said he would have final numbers for tax rates next week;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to pass a resolution increasing the expenditure for repairs to the library floor that swelled in June after heavy rainfall overflowed drains at the high school.

“It came back a little higher than we hoped,” Palmer told The Enterprise of the bid for the project. The $17,500 increase bumped the total allowable expenditure to $137,000, which will come out of BKW’s fund balance.

He told The Enterprise he anticipated the work would be done later than originally expected, around Sept. 15. Books and furniture, he said, are currently being stored in classrooms and hallways and will be stored on the auditorium stage before school begins;

— Heard from Palmer that an eligibility audit for the district’s health-insurance recipients had begun. He said the amount of work is so large he could not give a finish date;

— Heard from Palmer that BKW state test results for grades 3 through 8 showed little difference from the last year, before new Common Core state standards were used.

The tests are graded with 4 as the highest score and 1 as the lowest. According to a table presented by Palmer, BKW had 46 percent of students score 3 or 4 in 2012, meaning no remedial help is required. This was lower than than state-wide students, at 55 percent, and among rural districts, at 49 percent, the same year.

For 2013, BKW had 26 percent of students scoring 3 or 4 in English, compared to 31 percent state-wide and 23 percent among rural districts.

In math, 45 percent of BKW students scored levels three or four in 2012. The number dropped to 17 percent in 2013. State-wide percentages went from 65 to 31, and rural districts went from 57 to 19, between 2012 and 2013.

“The bottom line for me is this: These numbers are not acceptable, period,” Palmer told the board.

“That’s not good enough for rural districts,” he said. “That’s not good enough for anybody.”

“I’m going to have to applaud that message, because it’s really essential,” said long-time board member Helen Lounsbury, clapping from the gallery. Lounsbury finished her last term in June and did not seek re-election.

One of the board’s top goals set in July was to raise the percentage of students scoring 3 or 4 in English and math by 5 percent each year for the next three years.

In a letter sent out by Palmer on Tuesday, he wrote, “I want to make it very clear that the change in test scores (including, possibly, one in your child's score) does not mean that students are learning less or that teachers and schools are performing worse than last year;”

— Heard from Palmer that the school will have two international students, from Columbia and Spain, as part of its new Student Exchange Visitor Program, which allows students to enroll at BKW with F-1 visas.

The students, Palmer said, have paid $1,000 deposits and they have host families. Tuition for international students is $10,000 for the school and, for room and board, $5,000 to the host family; and

— “All I’ve done is trying to get out and tell people they’re doing a good job,” said Palmer, responding to a comment Lounsbury had made during the “accolades” period earlier in the meeting, when people acknowledged achievements in the district.

“I am aware he has spent endless time above his contract time,” said Lounsbury. She said he had attended community dinners and town board meetings, and that many people have expressed to her their pleasure with Palmer.

Lounsbury also thanked the board members for their service to the district.

More Hilltowns News

The 12-year-old Greenville student who died last month was undergoing treatment for a brain tumor when the July 19 event was scheduled by the Medusa Volunteer Fire Company.

Fifty-three students graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo in a ceremony on June 28. The otherwise jovial event was especially poignant when awards were given in memory of a student and  two alumni who died in recent years.

BERNE — Two neighbors — a man who raises cattle and a woman who