Because this year’s treacherous snowfall sometimes turned local roads into proverbial Slip ‘N Slides, schools and government offices racked up weather cancellations.

Because this year’s treacherous snowfall sometimes turned local roads into proverbial Slip ‘N Slides, schools and government offices racked up weather cancellations.

Both the Indian River and Sussex Technical school districts declared nine weather cancellation days this winter due to snow, prompting officials to adjust their preapproved academic calendars. Both districts also received state forgiveness for three days – Jan. 3, Jan. 22 and March 3 – when Gov. Jack Markell declared States of Emergency in Sussex County.

According to AJ Lathbury, superintendent of Sussex Tech, the district always builds nine extra days into its academic calendar to utilize in the event of weather cancellations.

“The primary makeup time is built in to ensure our students receive the maximum benefit of instructional time,” he said.

Calendar requirements for students and teachers differ, Lathbury said, with student schedules based on hours and teacher schedules based on days.

“With the state forgiveness, we can more than satisfy the student requirement and be left with several staff days to makeup contractually,” he said.

Although the district did not surpass its yearly weather cancellation budget, Lathbury said two student days and five teacher days have been added to the end of the year.

“We felt we needed the extra student time, even though we met student requirements without adding the two extra days,” he said. “The teacher days are added to meet contractual obligations.”

Indian River does not build weather cancellations into its academic calendar, instead preferring to address snow days on a case-by-case basis, according to Dave Maull, district spokesman.

The current plan of action to address IRSD weather cancellations is 30-minute extensions of each school day. The extended days began March 17. When the state Board of Education voted on March 20 to grant forgiveness for three snow days, the district moved the last day of school for students up one day, from June 11 to June 10, and added two hours to the teachers’ last day, setting dismissal at 3 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. on June 13.

However, the district was blindsided on March 25 when another storm prompted a weather cancellation.

“No decisions have been made regarding the final weather cancellation,” Maull said. “It has not yet been addressed by the board.”

‘Need for better planning’

When the state BOE granted weather cancellation forgiveness, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy was not happy, saying the students and teachers had been robbed of critical education time. However he said he must take into consideration the safety challenges caused by this year’s weather, and he recommended the state board approve forgiveness of up to six days.

Murphy said he recognizes the need for better planning in the future, referencing districts and charter schools that build extra time into their calendars for use during extreme weather events.

“I expect [our districts] will work with their communities, their parents and their teachers to build in the strategies to ensure our students and educators are not robbed of learning time,” he said. “And I expect that should we happen to have another set of challenging weather next school year, we will not see requests for ‘forgiveness of time.’”

However, it doesn’t look like IRSD will make changes; at least not right now.

“There are currently no plans to change the current policy of handling cancellations on a case-by-case basis,” Maull said. “This issue would have to be taken up by the board.”

In Sussex Tech, however, Lathbury said the district is in a “constant reassessment, reevaluation” mode.

“We will continue to utilize past experiences to plan for the future,” he said, adding the district will extend student calendars if the area continues to yield very active winters.

Government cancellations

Local governments also lost time this winter due to heavy snowfall; but most are not yet considering more strategic planning for snow-related costs in their yearly budgets.

Sussex County closed its offices four days this year, paying its employees more than $109,000 to stay home. The county also paid maintenance employees more than $9,600 in overtime to remove snow and spread salt. Seven tons of salt valued at $2,800 was used on county walkways, parking lots and building entrances.

The county does not specifically budget for snow removal and Chip Guy, county spokesman, said whether that changes next year is undetermined.

“It should be noted that this has been an unusual winter following more typical winter seasons, so this may be a premature discussion,” Guy said.

Georgetown closed its offices four days this year, paying its employees more than $28,500 to stay home. Public Works employees received more than $2,200 in overtime and the Georgetown Police Department incurred more than $7,500 in overtime. The town utilized 60 tons of salt valued at about $5,000 on its town-maintained roads, walkways, parking lots and building entrances.

Although Georgetown does not specifically budget for snow removal, like most local governments, Town Manager Gene Dvornick said some snow-related expenses are built into the budget each year. Dvornick did not respond to requests for comment on future planning.

Millsboro closed its offices three days this year, paying its employees more than $7,700 to stay home. Public Works employees were paid more than $4,500 in overtime. The town does not stock salt.

Assistant Town Manager Matt Schifano said the town may take a closer look at creating a snow budget.

“If we continue to see an upward trend, in terms of the amount of snow we have, then this could potentially be a topic of conversation during fiscal year budget discussions,” Schifano said.