NORTH ADAMS — The public school system's nurses are getting a raise.
The School Committee agreed Monday on a new pay schedule for the four nurses at each of its four schools — a move that school officials say brings North Adams Public Schools in line with other districts in the area.
"There was no salary schedule for school nurses; they were hired at starting rate based on their level of education," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "[Registered nurses] were being hired at $25,000 a year, and that is not comparable to what they can get in any other position."
The School Committee also approved a $15,000 stipend — paid for with money from the district's reserve account — for a nurse leader position, which would be open to a current school nurse or an outside candidate willing to work about one-third of a regular full-time position.
For a registered nurse, the new pay schedule begins at $38,356 and increases to $45,592 over the course of eight steps. A nurse with a bachelor's degree starts at $42,582 and increases to $49,539, while a nurse with a master's degree starts at $45,350 and rises to $53,907 over the course of eight steps.
The largest increase is for a nurse who earned $18,982 and will now earn $38,356 annually. The three other raises range from $10,549 to $16,206 annually.
The immediate impact of the new schedule is a total increase in salaries of $60,891, which can be absorbed into the current fiscal year's budget thanks to the reduction of a full-time health coordinator position to a part-time position.
Despite the substantial salary increases, Malkas noted in her presentation to the School Committee that the nurses will still earn less money than those with similar education and experience in Pittsfield.
"We are at least closer to what school nurses in the county are making," Malkas said.
The new salaries are comparable, on an hourly basis, to what the nurses would make outside the school system, Malkas said.
School Committee member Heather Boulger said that, in addition to Pittsfield, she would have liked to have seen a comparison to districts more similar in size to North Adams in Malkas' presentation.
"It's a significant bump. The current staffing deserves it, but we need to be able to justify where the money comes from as well," Boulger said.
In the Northern Berkshires, Malkas responded that "we're the lowest-paid" district.
In the 2016 school year, the nurses in North Adams Public Schools had just fewer than 18,000 office visits — which includes wellness visits, medication administration and first aid. This past year, that figure rose to 22,000 visits.
"They have reached almost every student in the building for some kind of a wellness check," said Thomas Simon, director of Student Support Services. "They are an integral part of the health of the building."
The ability to provide assistance to students "with more significant medical needs" during the school day "allows us to keep those students as included as possible," Simon said, preventing absences and, in some cases, placement in an outside program.
To help assess the nursing situation, Malkas issued an extensive survey to other school districts. It received 111 responses from districts across the state of varying sizes.
More than two-thirds of responding districts stated that their school nurses were part of the teacher bargaining unit and on the teacher salary schedule based on education and experience. About 14 percent of districts had nurses that were a part of the teacher bargaining unit but with a separate salary schedule, while 11 percent of districts had nurses in a separate bargaining unit altogether.
In the survey, 75 percent of responding districts said their district has a school nurse leader or department head.
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.