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April 2014

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Paying for 'snow' days

With an unrelenting winter prompting the cancellation of classes Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 27 and 28, schools may have to figure out how to make up the time they've taken off.

"Closing school, it's not something you take lightly. You're canceling buses. You're rescheduling meetings," said Hartland-Lakeside Superintendent Glenn Schilling. He explained that the decision is not made by one school but by a consortium of schools, headed by Arrowhead Superintendent Craig Jefson. The group considers weather services, neighboring schools and local resources such as law enforcement and transportation services.

The Arrowhead School District and its feeder schools have a built-in makeup day that, thanks to the most recent cold wave, may be put to use. The district still has to crunch the numbers with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which could either issue a waiver so schools do not have to make up lost time or tell the districts to use their extra day.

The state requires schools to offer a certain amount of instruction time each academic year. Coming up short because of days called off for inclement weather generally means a district has to make up the lost time.

Public Information Coordinator for the Sussex-Hamilton School District, Denise Dorn Lindberg, explained that all days when students and staff do not have school must be made up.

"Our calendar has some days that are scheduled as a day off that can be used to make up days," she said.

For example, May 23 is listed as a break on their 2013-14 calendar, but there is an asterisk by it that indicates that it could be a make-up day if school is closed during the year. Because students and staff were not in school earlier in January, May 23 is already a make-up day.

"June 11 was originally slated as the last day of school for students, however, make-up days are June 12 and 13. With the days off on Monday and Tuesday this week due to the weather, students will be going to school until June 13 this year," Lindberg said.

Merton Superintendent Ronald Russ said his district has set aside May 23 in case it needs to lengthen the school year.

Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke said district officials plan to meet Thursday and Friday to look at the numbers, knowing full well that there is plenty of winter still ahead. They hope to make a decision by the end of this week regarding a potentially longer school year.

In many cases, faculty and staff do not get a day off, even when students stay home. Administrative offices often remain open, and meetings can still be arranged in and outside of schools.

"We do a lot of conferencing because of technology," Schilling said. He may conference with administrators in other schools or share Google Docs with teachers working from home throughout the day, he explained.

Russ said that Merton Community School District staff members also keep busy during snow days. "We did have staff here all day (Monday) as it relates to professional development, collaboration, units of study planning, taking a look at our dates for the first semester and reworking our response to intervention (RTI) groups.

"So we do have them working and working hard, that's for sure," Russ said.

Sternke agreed, noting that the first round of days off for the weather earlier this month brought all of the teachers together for collaborative projects. "Of course, I wish the students could have been in school ... But it was time well spent, in that respect."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer contributed to this report.

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