EAST LIVERPOOL - With the cancellation of many area schools yesterday, many districts are reaching or surpassing the five calamity days allotted by the state. Area superintendents are paying close attention to this week's forecast, which predicts wind chills as low as negative 30 today and Wednesday.
For area superintendents, canceling school is a big decision regardless of whether or not the district has exceeded its allotted five calamity days. East Liverpool City Schools is one district that, as of Monday, exceeded the five calamity day limit and will make up additional days at the end of the school year. Superintendent James Herring says that predicting the weather and making the right decision is difficult and not taken lightly.
"It's not a spur of the moment decision," said Herring. "There's a lot of preparation and investigation that goes into this."
Herring, like many area superintendents, has established a routine for evaluating road conditions and weighing the important decision of whether or not to close.
"My transportation supervisor and my maintenance supervisor go out (on the roads) at 4 or 5 in the morning," said Herrring. "I go out myself sometimes at 5 in the morning just to see what the roads are like and see if it's safe to have the children out by the bus stop."
Southern Local Superintendent John Wilson and Wellsville Local School Superintendent Richard Bereschik also both favor a hands-on approach, in addition to checking with their transportation supervisors.
"I go out every morning," said Bereschik. "I know where the trouble spots are."
Wellsville Local Schools used its last calamity day on Monday. Bereschik says students will be making the days up at the end of the school year as the district has done many times during his 40 years there. He notes that in recent years the district has been lucky in terms of bad weather, having used just one calamity day in the two school years prior to this one. Even with this year's abnormally cold and snowy winter, Bereschik says he recalls the blizzard in the winter of 1977 and keeps in mind that things could be worse. "That was a real blizzard," said Bereschik.
Southern Local is out of calamity days as well, but Wilson says he won't hesitate to close school this week if weather conditions pose a danger to students. Wilson explained that, if need be, any additional calamity days will be subtracted from Southern's Easter Break on April 16, 17, 18 and 21.
Wilson notes that when temperatures reach as low as they are predicted today and Wednesday buses cannot always operate properly.
"The air brake systems will freeze up and the valves on the motors will freeze," said Wilson. "If my mechanic and my bus supervisor thinks that's going to be an issue then we take that into consideration, take a two hour delay, wait to see if it warms up, and then have school."
All three superintendents said the two hour delay is a useful option when conditions are questionable and more time is needed to see what weather will do.
"A lot of times if it's actually calamity weather like snow or ice it's a lot easier to do (close)," said Herring. "If it's going to be negative 10 all day there's no sense in taking a two hour delay."
With temperatures forecast to dip into the negative range today and Wednesday, there is a strong chance area schools could be canceling again and adding more days to be made up at the end of the school year.
However, next year Ohio school districts will have the option to make up days by hours instead of by days. Instead of holding school during summer break, superintendents will have the option to, for instance, tack an extra hour on regularly scheduled school days to make up for hours canceled earlier in the year.
Wilson explained that the new system will establish a set amount of "instructional time" which districts must fulfill during the school year. "Non-instructional time" such as calamity days, teacher's in services, and parent teacher conferences will all be subtracted from this set number of hours.
"I like the new system," said Wilson. " I think it gives you a little more leeway with the hours."
For this school year, there is the possibility that the Ohio General Assembly and Department of Education could pass legislation granting a one-time increase in the number of calamity days. Governor John Kasich is urging that they grant the increase saying that extending the school year to make up for the calamity days can "wreak havoc with schools budgets and schedules." Kasich enacted legislation in 2011 that increased the number of calamity days from three to five.