San Diego Unified wants to use a traveling pool of nurses next year, instead of assigning nurses to schools based on their enrollment.

Doing so would provide just 44 nurses to more than 180 schools, unless individual schools also decide to pony up their own money to pay for more nurses on their campuses. If schools don’t, the plan would mean a dramatic reduction in the number of nurses serving schools.

“I feel uncomfortable with it. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to meet the needs of the kids this way,” said Jennifer Gorman, who manages nursing and wellness programs in San Diego Unified. She estimates that there are now the equivalent of 140 full-time nurses working in San Diego schools.

The proposed switch to a set of traveling nurses is part of a broader change in how the school district is budgeting. Instead of getting staff assigned by the school district based on enrollment — for instance, assigning a nurse to come to an elementary school two days every week — schools each got a pot of money to decide what and who to fund at their schools, including school nurses.

The central office promised it would still provide some minimal level of nursing in addition to whatever schools decide to buy for themselves. Thus the traveling nurses. Instead of nurses assigned to specific schools each day, there would be an average of six nurses for each of seven geographic areas.

The plan has not gone over well with the teachers union. President Bill Freeman said today if the plan for traveling nurses goes forward, the union will file a grievance.

“To think that nurses can be on call with kids is just absurd. And it’s dangerous,” Freeman said.

The teachers union has already argued that letting each school decide whether or not to fund many nurses and counselors runs afoul of their labor contract, as I wrote a few weeks ago:

For instance, under the contract, a school with more than 2,367 students is supposed to have a full-time nurse. [Union President Bill] Freeman said that if a school has enough students to justify getting a nurse or a counselor under the rules, they can’t use that money for anything else.

The plan is still tentative. San Diego Unified says it intends to follow the staffing rules, but schools could still choose to have fewer nurses or counselors than those rules prescribe if they consult with the union.

This is just one of the battles that are looming as San Diego Unified prepares to put forward its budget plans this Thursday before the school board. Check back soon for more on the budget drama.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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