First-graders are seen on their second day of school on Thursday, August 12, 2021, at Second Creek Elementary School in Commerce City. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

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Denver Public Schools planned to use new funding to put at least a part-time nurse in every school building, but instead, 61 schools started the year last week without one. To fill the gaps, the district asked nurses to volunteer to cover multiple schools.

The lack of school nurses is more severe than usual because of the fierce competition in the job market. “What we’re dealing with now is the shortage of human resources,” said Robin Greene, the director of nursing services for Denver Public Schools.

Denver’s shortage is an example of a longtime problem exacerbated by COVID-19. While schools around the country have more funding than usual due to federal relief dollars, they’re finding it difficult to find people for some hard-to-fill positions, such as nurses and bus drivers. In a survey by the Colorado School Finance Project earlier this month, 81 Colorado school districts listed school nurses among the most critical unfilled positions this school year.

Schools can now offer higher wages than before, but not as high as in the private sector. Greene said some of her nurses are being offered $25,000 signing bonuses to work in hospital labor and delivery wards, or $95 an hour to work in a COVID unit.

“We can’t compete with that,” Greene said.

The average salary of a nurse in Denver Public Schools is $75,000. The district is offering a $2,000 signing bonus and was able to hire several nurses last week, Greene said. That will bring the number of schools without a nurse to 38, according to district data. To ensure each Denver school has at least a part-time nurse, the district needs to fill 19 more full-time positions, the data shows.

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Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat

Senior Reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: