Winter’s weather not a huge problem for local schools yet

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published March 5, 2014

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EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE — Regional schools have had to close numerous times due to snow and the cold this winter, but it has not proven to be a huge problem yet, according to administrators.

East Detroit Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch said the school district has had seven snow days, with an additional day for building issues at Crescentwood Elementary, and two building-issue days for East Detroit High School. While the state allows districts to have six missed days forgiven, she said it is not a problem at East Detroit because it schedules more days than the state requires for classes.

The state wants a minimum of 177 school days — anything beyond that must be made up, Lelekatch said. That buffer being built into the district calendar has kept it all right so far, barring more snow or cold days in the next month.

“We still have 179 days, and we’re only required to have 177, so they still have two more days. As long as we have no more snow days, we’ll be in good shape,” Lelekatch said.

Otherwise, Lelekatch said the district was not having any particular problems with the weather.

Superintendent John Kment, of the Roseville Community Schools, said the district is going to need to make up days, and he requested that the school board allow the school’s hourly employees to use the district’s spring break for their week of furlough days to account for it. The board granted that request.

Roseville Assistant Superintendent Michael LaFeve said the school district needs to make up two days as of Feb. 27. He said he did not yet have an answer as to how this will impact the calendar.

“We’re trying to get through all the bad weather first, and I’m hoping we don’t have any more,” LaFeve said. “I’m assuming we may have to add some days, but I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Furthermore, Kment also said the district was having trouble with its salt supply. Buildings and Grounds Director Jon Steenland said during the Feb. 17 school board meeting that the district’s supply was running low, and that the state has stepped in to claim its normal supply for additional salt.

“We’re cut off at this point,” Steenland said. “We have enough for the buildings to get out with salt spreaders, but for parking lots, we may run out. I’ve talked to individuals from the city to see if we can purchase it from them like we used to.”

He added that heavy snowfall was proving problematic insofar as moving it off parking lots and sidewalks. Steenland said at some buildings, his staff was simply running out of space to pile it up.

Lelekatch said she is still waiting to hear from Lansing in case the district does go over its limit, since there is talk there about having schools make up time with full days rather than just adding time onto each existing school day.

LaFeve said Deputy Superintendent Rebecca Vasil currently is handling the calendar, and if the weather does not require more additions to the school year, he expects she should have a proposal in about a month.

On the subject of additional days, Lelekatch said that while there would not be an economic impact for contract employees, like teachers, secretaries and administrators, hourly employees go on furlough on those additional days.

More time off school can be detrimental to teaching students, however, as they forget materials learned and need refreshers.

“I think anytime kids are not in front of a teacher, it’s going to adversely affect their achievement,” Lelekatch said.

Lelekatch said school closures are generally made in concert by superintendents across the entire county based on a few factors. In the event of heavy snowfall, the question becomes whether or not the buses can get students to school safely and on time — if not, she said, classes will be canceled.

In case of cold weather, it ultimately comes down to whether or not it is safe for students to wait at bus stops or to walk to school. If not, then schools will be closed, she said.

“You’re not only looking at temperatures, but the wind chill,” Lelekatch said. “We don’t have a set temperature, because it can be 4 degrees and have a wind chill of minus 25, and it could be 0 degrees with a wind chill of 0. I think just remembering the health, safety and welfare of students is the No. 1 priority when we’re talking about closing buildings and closing schools.”

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