Calling a snow day is about to get tougher for some school superintendents.
The vexing question of whether to cancel school is made more complex as a tough winter wears on and districts begin to use up the number of days they have set aside for bad weather. Once those are used up, districts must make up the days or face cuts in state aid.
Some districts are already approaching that point.
“We know that we’re going into a tough winter,” said Paul M. Connelly, superintendent of the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District. “There’s no question about it. But we built in five days, and we just ate them up.”
It’s an issue some districts haven’t dealt with since the October Storm in 2006 cut power to many schools and closed them for days. That year, several districts had to cut short spring vacations.
State law requires schools to hold classes at least 180 days in a school year. Most districts add anywhere from two to five extra days into the calendar to plan for emergencies. After that, administrators must add class days – either by reducing vacation days or changing the calendar in other ways.
“We still have a little bit of room before we have to use vacation days, but not much,” said Anthony J. Day, superintendent of the Sweet Home Central School District, which had used two snow days as of Tuesday. “It’s getting up against it at this point.”
Springville, like other districts in the Southtowns, was hit with a lake-effect storm in December that forced schools to close. Connelly said his and other districts in the region plan to request a reprieve from the state Department of Education for Friday and Tuesday – which were declared emergencies by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Historically, however, such a reprieve is a tough sell. State law requires school districts to use up all of their vacation days before the state Department of Education can grant a waiver, although the State Legislature can address the situation with special legislation.
Regardless of state aid requirements, school administrators say student and staff safety is the first thing they weigh when making the decision to cancel school. Sorting out district calendars, state aid requirements and collective bargaining agreements comes later.
“The first consideration has to be whether students are going to be safe being transported to school, whether students are going to be safe for the purpose of exposure and temperature,” said David O’Rourke, district superintendent for Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES. “After that, I think we will have to accommodate and make do with what the statute requires and what’s necessary with our own calendars.”