All 76 Buffalo school nurses have to find new assignments this summer. As employees of Kaleida Health, their assignments in Buffalo Public Schools is ending. The Buffalo School Board Wednesday night voted to replace them with cheaper, non-union nurses from two staffing agencies.
For the last week, Kaleida and its nurses have been pushing hard to continue in city schools, a contract the healthcare company has had for 13 years. The difficulty was that Kaleida's paper bid proposal was delivered after the deadline and disqualified.
District lawyers threw out the bid, plus those of two other applicants. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash supported the lawyers' decision.
Starting July 1, the nurses will come from Oldsmar, FL-based SunBelt Staffing and Supplemental Health Care, with a base in Park City, UT and an office in Amherst. The proposal received the required minimum five of nine votes for passage.
Board member Larry Quinn explained his support of the move to WBFO.
"Ultimately, there really wasn't much choice," Quinn said. "It was a bid situation responsive to the types of nurses we need in the schools and over a three-year period, they were about $1.5-$1.8 million less."
Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold opposed the decision.
"Very emotional. Certainly the personal stories, the children, in particular, who came and talked and people were very sincere and talked about their concerns about losing this particular nursing staff and it was very difficult," Seals Nevergold said.
The North District's Hope Jay also voted "no" on the contract.
"There seemed to be a desire to have more time to review the contract," Jay said. "People felt rushed, yet the community felt that the district was not transparent. There seemed to be a lot of mistrust about how it was handled."
Jay said she also believes the "health and welfare" of students should be a priority over "bureaucracy." Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi and Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash yelled across the room against each other during the vote.
"I applaud 99 percent of what you do and you know I do," said Mecozzi, "but when we have something this huge, where there are so many lives affected and it will....I don't understand why you are looking at me like that."
"You think I'm going to affect lives," Cash said.
"Right," Mecozzi said. "You don't think changing nurses is going to affect lives."
"Not if they are quality," Cash returned, "and...."
"...made my point," Mecozzi finished.
Mecozzi ended up abstaining. An attempt to delay the vote did not work out.
Following the vote, board member Catherine Flanagan-Priore resigned her seat in protest. Her letter of resignation was handed out to board members by Seals Nevergold at the end of the evening without discussion.
The letter of Flanagan-Priore, who is a Kaleida psychologist, says she resigned "in protest" because of the way the contract was handled:
"I cannot in good consciousness continue in my role with the Buffalo Board of Education. I am painfully aware of the limitations of my role relative to the school nurse matter given that I have a conflict of interest. That being said, I cannot be complicit in this matter. From my perspective it is unethical to knowingly limit the knowledge of an individual or group of individuals has regarding the future of their employment status. I fully recognize the importance of following policies and regulations, but I cannot ignore that it seems as though the district administration intentionally strung along some 70-plus nurses in addition to the parents who are expecting high-quality nursing care in their children's schools without pause. An active choice was made to withhold critical information from both the parents and children living in our district as well as the nurses who provide medical care for our children."
"I didn't have much respect for it," said Quinn of the letter. "First of all, she didn't address her fellow board members. Just threw her letter at us. Never came back into the room. You know, I never felt she contributed a lot. She's pretty meek. You know, these are tough issues, there're not pleasant. When you have to make tough decisions there's a lot of criticism and if you find that difficult and can't handle it, you probably shouldn't be on the board to begin with."
Flanagan-Priore replaced Carl Paladino when he was removed from his Park District seat by the state education commissioner. Jay said the board now has 30 days to schedule interviews to find a replacement for Flanagan-Priore, the same process as when Paladino was discharged. District spokesperson Elena Cala told WBFO she would be issuing a statement on next steps.
Nurses packed the Common Council Chamber and had rallied outside City Hall before the meeting.
"Most of our work days start before we clock in and end long after we clock out," said nurse Amy Piniewski. "Just this morning, I had a student have a seizure as soon as I walked in the door. At the same time, I had one of my diabetics' glucose was low. I was able to treat them both safely and fast. After, they were both able to return to class. After I clocked out today, I had a student run up to me who had a big laceration which required stitches."
The nurses said they bring years of experience in caring for children, getting to know them and their families and attending sporting events to cheer on their school. Oishei Children's Hospital President Allegra Jaros said the pairing of her hospital with the nurses is a better deal.
"The value proposition around our proposal is much more than staff," Jaros said. "These specialty nurses with their training expertise are backed by collaboration and knowledge of the Oishei Children's Hospital physicians, programs and staff. This robust knowledge and expertise simply cannot be replaced."
Kaleida spokesman Mike Hughes said the nurses will still have jobs.
"Every single staff member that you saw speak tonight, every single school nurse staff is guaranteed a job from the Kaleida health system," Hughes said. "Our goal is to protect the nurses, unlike what happened tonight."