Stormy weather: Winter pushes area school calendars into June

MARQUETTE – A winter weather advisory is in effect throughout the area today, and the National Weather Service out of Negaunee Township estimates up to 4 inches of heavy, wet snowfall will occur.

And with local school districts already over their allotted snow days for the year, many school officials are hoping the snow storms have run their course, or at least have the decency to wait until after April to hit again.

“If you have a strange weather event after April 1, you can apply for extra days that could be forgiven, so if you have a weird ice storm or a freak snow storm in April that causes us to be closed down, we can ask for additional days,” said Bryan DeAugustine, superintendent of NICE Community Schools.

Michigan school districts are allowed up to six snow days per year. Any additional snow days must be made up. However, the law does allow for exceptional weather events to take place after April 1. Should schools need to close down in the waning months of the school year, they can apply to the state to have those days forgiven.

And in a year that has seen more snow days than most area school officials can remember, it’s a distinct possibility schools will have to be closed down yet again before the year is out.

Marquette Area Public Schools has called off school nine times this school year.

“I’ve been around for 25 years and I don’t ever remember having nine days,” said MAPS Superintendent Deb Veiht.

DeAugustine agreed.

“This is the most in a really long time,” he said. “You’d have to go back to the middle ’90s, probably, to find a comparison.”

But both superintendents also said they stand by their decisions to keep their districts closed on days that saw biting winds, blowing snow and high snowfall accumulations.

“Our district boundaries have gotten larger the last years,” Veiht said. “We have to go out to the crossroads, we’re going out to Sand River, trying to drive those main thoroughfares to see, based on judgment, can we get our buses through safely?

“Looking back, I think we needed to make all of (those cancellations).”

DeAugustine said student safety is the No. 1 priority in the decision to close schools for the day.

“We’ve been very confident every day that we’ve called off,” DeAugustine said. “The danger that it would have put our kids in to bring them to school would not have been worth it.”

Most schools will be tacking their make-up days onto the end of the year. However, they’ll likely make those decisions based on contracts with employees.

“Our calendar is set by working with the teacher contract, and the teacher contract states the days need to be added on the end of the year,” Veiht said, adding that snow days don’t cost the district extra money. “Our teachers are already paid because they’re salary. For our support staff – our bus drivers, our aides, our secretaries – they get two snow days in their contract. They’ve been unpaid for the rest of the days … We put it in the budget to pay for (snow days) anyway. It’s not really going to cost us any more than if we were in operation.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.