OCS blowing through its snow days

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Onteora School District has been burning through its allotment of snow days for the 2013-’14 school year, but District Superintendent Phyllis McGill said it is because of events beyond her control.
Students at Onteora just enjoyed an extra long winter holiday, due to closures right before and right after the scheduled break, but if this weather trend continues they might not get much of an Easter vacation. Easter vacation days get shorted if the district runs out of snow days. “We had seven planned,” said McGill Monday. “We’ve used five so far.”
In contrast, the Margaretville Central School District hasn’t had a single snow day yet, according to District Superintendent, Tony Albanese. Margaretville hasn’t even had a delayed opening yet either, Albanese said.
Onteora’s McGill said that one of the issues she faces is the fact that the Onteora District is huge, 292 square miles to be exact, and stretches from the top of Highmount all the way down to Kingston, and along the way spreads out north over into the Greene County Town of Lexington and south several miles onto the far side of the Ashokan Reservoir near Kerhonkson.
That means that if there can be some kind of road trouble there’s usually a spot in the district to find it.
She said that decision making for weather related closures and delays begin at around 4 a.m. That’s when Director of Transportation Nicole Sommer begins gathering information from people throughout the district and by actually getting out on the roads to see things first hand.
Then a report is given to McGill, who, at that same time, is in communication with various town and county officials district wide. In the end, she alone makes the decision to close school.
McGill noted that a 2010 decision to create a three-hour delay option has been useful at reducing the number of closures because it gives road crews enough of a chance to get things cleared.
But not always.
For example, last Friday’s closure was due, in part, to the extreme cold temperatures. That needs to be factored in at times, she said, adding that she must consider what can happen to students waiting for a bus in the morning that could end up being late. With extreme cold frostbite can set in quickly.
“For many different reasons, we have some students that come to school without the appropriate winter attire,” she said.
Knowing there are only two unused snow days left, McGill said nothing will change. That 4 a.m. process will continue every time it’s necessary. “At the end of the day the decision has to be based on safety,” she said.