ROGERS -- The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal to allow off-duty paramedics to work as substitutes for school nurses.
A tentative written agreement between the city and School District cites a potential shortage of available school nurses because of the covid-19 pandemic.
The City Council must approve the deal and is scheduled to consider it next week.
Schools Superintendent Marlin Berry said the district is almost fully staffed in terms of nurses. The deal with the city is a back-up plan for covering nurse absences.
"That would really hurt us if we have a nurse who had to quarantine for 14 days. That's tough," Berry said.
The agreement approved by the board states the city shall inform its paramedics of the opportunities for off-duty work within the district. The district will be solely responsible for paying the paramedics.
The city will allow those paramedics to wear their city uniforms and use any necessary medical supplies or equipment belonging to the city, according to the agreement.
Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said before Tuesday's board meeting he fully supports the arrangement, as does Mayor Greg Hines.
The city has about 140 firefighters, about 70%-80% of whom are paramedics, Jenkins said. Several already have indicated an interest in working in the schools, he said.
"This is a dividend of what I think has been a very positive relationship with our School District," Jenkins said. "When you work together regularly, you find opportunities to help each other with problems, and this is an opportunity to do that."
He said he's not aware of other schools or cities where paramedics work as school nurses.
The paramedic proposal is similar to the arrangement the district has with the city to provide school resource officers in certain school buildings.
Nurses oversee the health of students while they are at school and are critical members of the education team, according to a summary of the paramedic proposal accompanying the online agenda for Tuesday's board meeting.
"When a school nurse has to be gone during a school day, the school administration, teachers and parents miss an important component that helps the school day run well," the summary states.
Berry said the district is examining what it pays its nurses in relation to what they can earn in the rest of the health-care market.
The district pays licensed practical nurses between $26,823 and $33,665 per year and pays registered nurses between $32,210 and $45,806, depending on experience. That's for 189 days of work, according to a district salary schedule.
The average salary for registered nurses in Arkansas is $61,330, according to Nurse.org.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in 2016 calling for a minimum of one full-time registered nurse in every school.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
Dave Perozek can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWADaveP.