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Snow days: blessing or burden? It’s all who you ask

SPRINGVILLE  — There’s nothing quite like the anticipation on a snowy morning, still dressed in jammies, breath bated and eyes glued to the TV, hoping the local school makes it across the crawl at the bottom of the screen.

And when it does, there’s nothing like jumping out of those PJs and into snowpants and boots, grabbing a sled and running outside to hit the hill, instead of the books.

It’s a happy day for students when school is closed, and lately, there’s been plenty to cheer about in Western New York, in that regard.

But not for district administrators.

Paul Connelly, superintendent for Springville-Griffith Institute, said a snow day means an early start, for him.

“[Concord Highway Superintendent Dennis Dains] and I are usually on the phone about 3:30 in the morning” on a snow day, said Connelly.

The school superintendent said he confers with Dains about the state of local roads when considering closing school. “Dennis kind of collects information from the other municipalities, Colden, Sardinia, East Concord, Collins, things like that,” he said.

Connelly also consults other local administrators about what their districts are doing.

Eric Lawton, superintendant at West Valley Central School, does the same.

“Typically, I will confer with Tim Engels,” said Lawton, “who is our highway superintendent [of the town of Ashford] – I call him usually some time between 4 and 5 in the morning – and he lets me know what the state of the roads are, everything like that. I also confer with other local superintendents. We text and email, you know, talk about, ‘are you going to be open, what are we going to be looking at, are you going to be doing a delay, what’s the best plan of attack.’”

On Jan. 8, while the recent blizzard was still winding down, in some places, Lawton noted that West Valley saw no snow – and that meant WVCS was in session.

“Today, for example, I know a lot of schools closed, and we’re open, but yesterday [at the height of the blizzard], we were closed and it was sunny and we got no snow, down here. And then, today, same thing – we got absolutely no snow and it was a little bit warmer and there was no breeze. So, we looked at the wind chill and the temperature being a little bit warmer and thought, ‘we can do this.’”

Neighboring Springville also saw little snow from the blizzard, though some parts of S-GI’s 146-square-mile district were slammed with the white stuff.

Connelly noted that local geography can make things more complicated.

“Springville has its own set of challenges, with so many hills,” he said. “It’s 146 square miles, so it’s a big area to cover. And in many places it could be fine, and in other places within the district, it could be absolutely treacherous.”

As a result, S-GI has already met its quota for snow days for the year – time the district may have to make up by dipping into scheduled school vacations. Districts that fall below a state-mandated 180 days of school run the risk of losing state aid.

“We’ve built five days into the calendar this year for snow days, and we’re out of them already. So, now what we have to do, we have to start dipping into vacations and holidays and things like that.”

Connelly added that a district calendar committee will meet to hash out the details. In the meantime, however, the superintendent said he planned to ask the state for a break.

“Since the governor declared a state of emergency on both [Jan. 3] and [Jan. 8],” said Connelly, “I’m going to request the state give us our aid back for those days, because when they declare a state of emergency, when there’s a driving ban, then you’re essentially breaking the law if you’re out there driving around.”

West Valley still has a couple of days in reserve, having used only three of five snow days that district had built into their calendar.

Both superintendents said this year has been the worst since joining their respective districts, snow-wise. The worst winter on local record?

Neither Connelly nor Lawton were sure when that season had been, but both agreed: It had to have been the winter of ‘77.

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