Baltimore County's elementary school nurses say the move they didn't want to make may cost them as much as $2,000 apiece.
Going from the employ of the county Health Department to that of the school board also could cost the nurses their union. However, attorneys for the Professional Staff Nurses of Maryland this week petitioned the school board to allow the organization to continue to represent the more than 120 school nurses and bargain a work agreement for them.
An attorney for the school system, however, recommended that the nurses be represented by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) and its affiliate, Baltimore County Instructional Assistants & Clerical Employees Inc. (BACE). Nurses in the county's secondary schools are part of the TABCO/BACE organization.
"The elementary school nurses have been represented by PSNA for many years. They wish to continue," said Marley S. Weiss, the association's attorney.
But Margaret Ann Howie, a specialist in staff and government relations for the school system, said that state code prohibits the school system from having more than three bargaining units. In addition to the arrangements with TABCO and BACE, the schools negotiate with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
Ms. Marley said TABCO and BACE can be considered one bargaining unit, making way for the nurses' association. "If we are able to work out a reasonable solution, then we can avoid . . . litigation," she told the board. The jockeying is the result of County Executive Roger B. Hayden's decision to move the elementary school nurses from the county Health Department's jurisdiction to the school board's jurisdiction. Neither the school board nor the nurses were informed of the move until shortly before Mr. Hayden made the switch in his 1994 budget.
The nurses' bargaining agreement with the county expired last month. They have not yet bargained with the school system for a new agreement. "Roger Hayden ensured all of us . . . that we would be coming with all we had last year," school nurse Susan Orthaus told the board. "Mr. Hayden did not send us intact. This is unjust."
Ms. Orthaus, president of the Baltimore County unit of the staff nurses' association, said the financial losses fall into four categories: tuition and uniform reimbursements, higher medical insurance premiums and a change in the vacation policy that could cost nurses as much as $1,000 a year. These losses, she said, are the result of differences between school system and Health Department policies. "For health insurance, my monthly premium will cost me $300 a year more than with the county," said Ms. Orthaus. And, although the school system doesn't require its nurses to wear uniforms, it also doesn't provide the $200 annual uniform allowance the county pays. "Being a school nurse for 17 years, I don't have a wardrobe for work everyday," she said, adding that next year she wouldn't have the uniform allowance either.
Superintendent of Schools Stuart Berger has agreed to meet informally with the nurses to discuss the inequities. The elementary school nurses have traditionally been paid 25 to 30 percent less than nurses in middle and high schools, Ms. Orthaus said. She said she made $23,750 last year, but would have made $27,000 as a secondary school nurse.
The association has been working trying to close this gap, without success. Dr. Berger has said the school system does not have the money to make up the difference.
Secondary school nurses are required to have bachelor's degrees, though not necessarily in nursing. Elementary school nurses are all registered nurses, but do not need bachelor's degrees.