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Philly schools laying off nurses and others

Michele Perloff suffered a devastating loss in May: Her husband died at age 52 after a five-year battle with colon cancer, leaving her alone to tend to their three children, ages 10, 14, and 16.

Michele Perloff suffered a devastating loss in May: Her husband died at age 52 after a five-year battle with colon cancer, leaving her alone to tend to their three children, ages 10, 14, and 16.

Getting through the holidays was going to be hard. On Thursday, it got harder.

Perloff, a nurse in the Philadelphia School District, learned she would be among 141 employees laid off, effective Dec. 31 - another result of budget-cutting in the cash-strapped school system.

"We're still trying to get through the firsts of everything," Perloff said from her nurse's office at J. Hampton Moore School in the Northeast. "The fact that I'm losing my job right now, my kids are quite frantic. They called: 'Mommy, what's happening? Do you still have a job?' "

Forty-seven nurses are being cut from the payroll, reducing the district's allotment to 189. Perloff, who has worked in the district for four years, was 13th from the bottom on the seniority list. Also being cut are library assistants, nonteaching assistants, secretaries, and others. Layoff notices go out Friday, officials said.

"These layoffs are part of our effort to stabilize the district and, while the timing is unfortunate, delaying these actions will only exacerbate the problem," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

The district, he said, will continue to deploy nurses in schools where there are "medically fragile" students in need of care. He noted that some schools have not had a full-time nurse for years, if ever. Principals or their designees cover in those schools.

In the case of Moore, which has 1,146 kindergarten through fifth-grade students, he said, the school will continue to have a nurse every day, but not the same nurse.

The 520-student Greenfield School, which had a nurse five days a week, will have its coverage reduced to two days, he said.

That concerns Peg Devine, who has been the nurse there since 1993. She will keep her job, but will not be able to stay full time at Greenfield.

"We've got tons of kids with disabilities," she said. "I give four medications every day." She also has other medications on hand for children with severe allergies and other problems.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the union would fight the layoffs.

"I find it reprehensible that schools, which already made drastic program and personnel cuts last spring because of severely reduced budgets, have again been told by the administration to cut staff members who play vital roles protecting students' safety, security, health, and well-being every day," Jordan said.

Eileen DiFranco, a nurse at Roxborough High, is organizing an "Occupy 440" protest for 11 a.m. Wednesday at district headquarters, 440 N. Broad St.

"Why aren't charter schools sharing this burden?" she asked.

Hearing of the plan to have different nurses at Moore, parent Heather Smith said: "Well, that's just stupid. It's like going to a different doctor every time. The nurse knows you. She knows the kids."

Smith, president of Moore's Home and School Association, has a fourth grader with special medical needs.

At Moore on Thursday, Perloff packed up her office, including a plethora of reference materials and posters on smoking, nutrition, hygiene, and other topics.

"I've tried to make my office as interesting as possible so that when kids are here for screening," she said, "they can be looking around and learning something."

Perloff's husband, a former senior vice president for Elektra Entertainment, commuted to New York so the family could live in Elkins Park. Perloff had worked at a hospital for years and then was a stay-at-home mother. Six years ago, she became a school nurse, first in Cheltenham, and the last four years in the city.

"I wanted to work in public health," she said.

And the school day allows her to spend adequate time with her own children. That became increasingly important after her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Her job at Moore has become busier as the district has cut staff, she said.

"I'm seeing more injuries daily - head injuries, broken bones, boo-boos, jammed fingers," she said, attributing them to accidents and fights.

She also has more than 200 students with chronic conditions, including heart problems, asthma, and seizures. She's a sympathetic ear, too, for children with problems.

"I collaborate with the counselor if there's an emotional issue going on," she said.

Perloff, like other nurses, also does height, weight, vision, and hearing screenings, and tracks immunizations.

"That's a huge part of my school year," she said.

She's not sure what she'll do: "I have been networking, but I really don't want to go back to shift work in a hospital. My kids need me."