ORGANIZED LABOR is lining up behind the teachers union to oppose a plan by the School District of Philadelphia to potentially privatize health services.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, joined yesterday by activists and union supporters, said the district's request for a private company to provide health services is a risky bet for students and families, and could lead to eliminating experienced school nurses.

Jordan was also armed with a leader from local power broker Pat Eiding, head of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, expressing "grave concerns" about the district's plan.

"My affiliates and I have grave doubts about the ability of outside staffing agencies to provide healthcare professionals with similar experience, qualifications, and dedication to Philadelphia's public school students," states the letter, addressed to School Reform Commission chairwoman Marjorie Neff.

Sabrina Jones, the mother of a fourth-grader at Lingelbach Elementary in Germantown, said her son had a bad experience with a personal-care aide who was assigned to him because he has a feeding tube. She fears that could happen again if school nurses are replaced by an outside company.

"It wasn't a consistent person," Jones said. "Neither one of them were vested in my child. They didn't know the signs that I expected them to know when he was in distress because they didn't see my child as much."

The district currently has 183 school nurses, down from 283 in 2011, a result of budget cuts.

Superintendent William Hite said it would cost an additional $17 million to put a full-time nurse in every school and that the Request For Proposals is to find out if the district can complement its current services at little or no additional cost.

"Are there opportunities to expand a current set of services so that we can provide more children with access to those health services? That's what we're attempting to do," he said.

Hite said the private provider would be required to hire staff with the same certification as current nurses.

The PFT is also considering its options to fight the district's attempt to hire an outside company to manage substitute teachers, a position currently represented by the union, Jordan said.

The SRC is expected to vote next week on a contract with Source4Teachers, a Cherry Hill-based firm. The district said it has only been able to fill about 64 percent of substitute positions; the firm would be required to fill 90 percent.

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