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School-nurse advocates make final push

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A year ago, Teri Saurer went to a county budget hearing and made an impassioned pitch for more school nurses in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. It went nowhere.

She’s learned a lot since then. After a year of lobbying, she was overjoyed to see Interim County Manager Bobbie Shields is recommending that commissioners spend $1 million to add 11 nurses. She’s urging supporters to wear red and turn out for a final push at Thursday’s budget hearing.

“Getting to the point we’re at now … is amazing,” Saurer said.

Saurer has two daughters at Ballantyne Elementary. She never thought about the presence or absence of a nurse until the younger girl, who has severe food allergies, started school. That’s when she found out Ballantyne, like many other CMS schools, has a nurse for only half the week.

Last May, Saurer went to the 2012 budget hearing to talk about how a nurse’s presence could be a matter of life and death. She now realizes it was naive to think commissioners would hear her speech and make a last-minute addition. The county manager had already winnowed the highest priorities into his proposal, and commissioners were looking at cuts to some of those items.

So she geared up for 2013. She worked with other parents in Mecklenburg and Union counties to create N.C. Parents Advocating for School Health. They connected with the School Nurses Association of North Carolina. They gathered statistics and personal stories to make their case, developed contact lists of elected officials and got active in the 2012 county commissioners’ race.

“It’s become like a part-time job,” said Saurer, a working mom. She also learned that it’s tough to build a grass-roots movement that spans 159 schools in CMS alone.

Shields’ recommendation won’t get Saurer to her goal of a full-time nurse in every school. She estimates that would take $2.4 million. But it’s a big step for one tight budget year.

Approval isn’t guaranteed. Shields’ plan includes a tax hike, which doesn’t sit well with some commissioners. That’s why Saurer is urging anyone who wants more nurses to show up for the hearing. She already has speakers lined up; she just wants a crowd wearing red and carrying signs, which she’ll have on hand. “You can make a difference,” Saurer said. “You just have to be persistent. The minute you’re not, your issue’s gone.”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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