December 18, 2014

Schools draw close to state limit on snow days

Tim Barnum
Staff writer
Posted

ARENAC COUNTY — The icy roadways due to freezing rain that splattered the area Saturday night, caused the three school districts in Arenac County – Arenac Eastern (AE), AuGres-Sims (AGS), and Standish-Sterling (S-S) – to cancel school for the day on Monday Jan. 5.

Normally a snow day is no cause for alarm, but the unusually large amounts of winter precipitation last month and recently, has local schools already inching close to the state-reserved 30 hours (approximately five school days) for weather-related cancellations.

Gary Marchel, AGS Superintendent, says his district is extraordinarily close to the limit for this time of year.

“The state allows you 30 hours, so basically another half day is all we have left,” he said, adding four and a half days had been cancelled as of Jan. 5. “If you don’t make your 1,098 hours (per school year) the state cuts your funding.”

Marchel also said the district, if it exceeds the 30 hour limit, can add time onto the end of days or add whole days to the school year to make up the hours by the state’s June 30 deadline. However, he added, adding days to the end of the year can be a risky move due to summer vacations planned by families around that time.

“You also have to have a percentage of your students in attendance (during make up days),” Marchel said.

At AE, Superintendent Rocky Aldrich says the district actually has one more snow day remaining than other districts due to its four-day weeks, which saved the district from using a snow day when other districts in the county were using one, since those districts cancelled due to weather on a Monday when AE was closed.

Aldrich says AE does have a plan to deal with the possibility of exceeding the state’s limit, as well.

“We built a day in our calendar in the spring where we can make up a day if we have to,” he said. “[Or] You could add additional minutes to the end of the day and make up for it. That’s what we did last year.”

Marchel says that as of Jan. 5, AGS didn’t have a set-in-stone plan for this year’s limit pushing cancellation schedule.

“If you extend your day right now to make up for it and then you have another couple of days off, your extending your days again,” he said. He did add, though, that he and others on the staff have started to talk about making a plan to deal with the possibility of exceeding the cancellation limit.

In fact, the Superintendents of all three county districts talk frequently when it comes to calling off school.

“Generally, Gary (Marchel), Mike Dodge and I are talking with each other at 5 (a.m.),” Aldrich said. “The three of us work together.”

But the Superintendents, even though they ultimately make the call of whether or not school will be in session, also get some help from bus drivers. Aldrich says he sends out the lead bus driver to take a look at the back roads, which he says are often the problem in student transportation.

“A lot of our roads are gravel roads and shaded,” Aldrich said, adding that due to those conditions, the ice on the roads doesn’t melt as fast, and also due to the necessity of clearing state highways and county primaries, road commission trucks can’t service them as quickly.

Aldrich also added that all three Superintendents also stay in close contact with the Arenac County Road Commission during the winter.

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