Alamance-Burlington school board members voted 6-0 Tuesday afternoon to award bonuses to school nurses and “nurse extenders” – who were originally hired as temporary employees at the height of the Covid pandemic – using $211,000 that ABSS received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus package that Congress passed in March 2021.
Under the proposal school board members voted to approve Tuesday afternoon, 32 ABSS school nurses will receive a $3,275 bonus; five nurse extenders will receive a $1,000 bonus; and three mental health specialists will receive a $3,275 bonus each (see accompanying chart for a breakdown of how ABSS plans to use the funding).
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The ARPA money would also be used to hire an additional lead school nurse through the end of the school year and a temporary part-time nurse; to purchase six visual screening devices (used by school nurses); and to purchase 37 nursing care plan manuals and related software, based on the presentation school board members heard during their work session.
This week’s vote follows two earlier discussions in which the board ultimately directed the school system’s administration to find other permissible uses for the funds in order to use most of the revenue that ABSS has received under the federal stimulus funding.
Dr. Kristy Davis, chief student services officer for ABSS, had previously presented three possible options for spending the federal ARPA stimulus funding to school board members last week. Davis said in response to several board members’ questions early last month that officials with the Alamance County health department, which she said has oversight responsibility for the ARPA funds, had said the money couldn’t be used for nurses’ continuing education, though it had been specifically designated for school nurses and related expenses.
School board member Patsy Simpson had asked during one of the earlier discussions whether the ARPA money could be used to expand mental health services for students or purchase NARCAN, a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves had said last week that, if ABSS employees could benefit from it, “I don’t want to leave money on the table.”
Davis explained this week that ABSS currently has a total of three mental health specialists, or one per grade span – elementary, middle, and high school.
Each of the three mental health specialists will receive a $3,275 bonus, based on the proposal that school board members unanimously approved at their latest work session.
This marks at least the second time that school nurses and nurse extenders have received bonuses: the school board last approved a $2,000 bonus for all ABSS employees in November 2022, though those had been funded by a separate pot of federal stimulus money, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) package.
Originally, the nurse extenders were to have been temporary positions, intended to help ease the workload for ABSS school nurses at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In September 2021, ABSS received a grant to fund those positions through the end of that school year, in June 2022.
However, Davis told the board last week, “We are trying to find funds to at least keep them to December [of this year].”
School board members had voted in late September 2021 to authorize ABSS to seek a $1.7 million grant, administered through the state Department of Health and Human Services, that school officials had said would be used to hire 35 nurse extenders to assist with testing and contact tracing for Covid-19. The grant was scheduled to run to July 2022, according to Dr. LaJuana Norfleet, then-chief student services officer for ABSS.
Testing for Covid-19 continues to be offered today at the Sellars-Gunn Education Center in Burlington, Davis confirmed early last month for The Alamance News.
However, contact tracing was long ago suspended by Alamance County’s health department, which had overseen the contact tracing program since mid-2020.
School board member Chuck Marsh was absent from the work session Tuesday afternoon due to illness. Nor did he participate in the meeting via phone.