School nurses in Jefferson Parish demand higher pay; say veteran nurses make less than new hires

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 10:39 PM CDT
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GRETNA (WVUE) - A group of school nurses in Jefferson Parish said they’re not being fairly compensated, and the district said the problem is rooted in a recent change in state policy.

At a superintendent town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Gretna, the nurses questioned Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. James Gray about the policy and whether their pay could be increased to match their new counterparts.

“When we started, we started on a two-year teacher’s salary,” said eight-year Jefferson Parish school nurse Jennifer Martinsen. “Therefore, the nurses coming in are making more money than the nurses that exist right now.”

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (or BESE) voted earlier this year to remove the Louisiana Department of Education from the certification process for school nurses.

Prior to the rule change, which took effect August 1 of this year, school nurses would be required to have an ancillary certificate, meaning a specific certificate to work at a school. Now, they only need to be certified by the Louisiana Board of Nursing, and the Department of Education no longer needs to verify license status and employment history.

“[New nurses are] on a higher step. We started on step two because we had the ancillary [certificate],” said 18-year Jefferson Parish school nurse Sharon Vincent. “They’re starting at however many years they have as a nurse then jumping up to that step.”

Both Martinsen and Vincent, who have 23 years’ experience each in nursing, said they’ve had to train new nurses who are compensated thousands of dollars higher than them annually.

“Fair compensation is what we want,” Martinsen said. “We just want to be valued, and we want to be compensated fairly. And I think the public is unaware of that.”

Gray told the dozen or so nurses who showed up to the town hall that, because this is a new rule change and Wednesday was the first they’ve heard of the issue, the district would have to conduct analysis of nurse employment districtwide to determine whether a pay bump would be financially feasible.

He promised that he would meet with the nurses in the coming weeks to discuss their grievances.

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