Snow days are happening more often, according to local school superintendents.

Some central Maine school districts are closing in on their annual allotment of snow days. If those limits are exceeded, administrators might be forced to extend the school year — or even reschedule graduation for high school seniors.

Cornelia Brown, interim superintendent for Winthrop Public Schools, said storms with mixed precipitation are more common than when she first began working as a superintendent 20 years ago.

“It seems like we have more icing events than when I started,” she said. “It does seem like we do have more snow days than we used to.”

Maranacook Area Schools Superintendent Jay Charette, formerly of Fort Kent, said snowstorms are harder to clean up in central Maine, compared to the light, fluffy snow that “blows off the road” up north.

“The snow is different down here,” he said. “You guys tend to get a wetter, heavier snow.”

Augusta Public Schools Superintendent James Anastasio said school districts take many more aspects of the weather into account before making the decision to call off school.

“I think making a decision, with safety in mind, is getting more difficult,” he said. “There’s more information available to guide those decisions.”

Michael Cempa, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, said there is no easily accessible data to support claims of more frequent mixed-precipitation storms. He said there has been more snow than normal in the last several years, but the weather service does not keep detailed data on snow changing to rain.

“We have been generally running … on the high side of normal (amounts of snow),” he said. “It could just be that we’ve gone through a period where we have more snow.”

Brown said her district has used four of its five allotted snow days, which could alter the date for the end of the school year. She shied away from predicting whether she would need to use more.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Brown said, adding that going over the allotment probably would not affect Winthrop High School’s graduation, scheduled for June 9.

When she was the superintendent of Augusta School District, Brown said, students were sent to school on Saturday because there were more snow days than had been built into the schedule. This year, Augusta has used three of its five days so far; it also has had three delayed starts and one early release.

Charette said his district has used four of five scheduled snow days this year as well. He said the district used seven or eight last year.

“I would feel much better if I had two more going into March,” he said.

Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of School Administrative District 11 — which serves Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner — said her district did not build snow days into its schedule, but had five days to add in the event of cancellations. All five of those snow days have been used, so some days have been extended by an hour in order to salvage them. Anastasio told the Kennebec Journal earlier this week Augusta used a similar approach last year.

Hopkins said there are more student drivers and distracted drivers on the road than in previous years, so she is “more cautious” when deciding to close the school.

Mount Blue Regional School District, which serves the Farmington area and Vienna in Kennebec County, has used seven snow days, which has pushed the school’s end date from June 7 to June 17. Superintendent Tina Meserve said Thursday that district officials will approach the school board soon to discuss ways to get kids out of school sooner.

On Tuesday, Camden-Rockport Schools piloted a new take-home work program, which would replace snow days — if approved by the Maine Department of Education. The district had one more day scheduled than the legal requirement for school days, which afforded it an opportunity to test the program. Students were given work to do on their computers or hard copies of work sheets.

Camden-Rockport Assistant Superintendent Debra McIntyre said initial feedback was “positive,” though some parents were resistant to a remote work day.

“We’ll try to address those concerns as they come,” she said.

McIntyre added that the district has met with the state and will be lobbying officials to allow this to substitute for a snow day in the future.

The Maranacook school board discussed a similar system during a December 2018 meeting. Meserve said a program like Camden’s was not feasible in more rural areas of the state, such as Vienna and New Sharon on the outer bounds of the Mount Blue district, because some families there have less access to high-speed internet.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent William Zima was unavailable for comment.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666
[email protected]
Twitter: @SamShepME


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