Thursday, February 7, 2008

Snow Days -- Let's be more judicious

I wrote the following opinion piece after two snow days in one week. My district had another today.

Oakland Press: Snow Days Waste Money, Insult Parents (02/04/08)

I believe that’s at least four this year for Rochester.

Four schools days – lost forever. And, by my calculations, that’s over $3 million in lost productivity.

In my drive to work this morning -- joined, incidentally, by every other private-sector employee -- it appeared to me that most main roads, and many subdivision roads were easily passable. In Rochester, it seems that if a few dirt roads at the northern-most end of the district are not deemed passable by the transportation department, then the entire district is shut down for all 15,000 kids.

The comments I’ve received on this topic have been interesting, and if I find time later today I'll post some of them. It’s disappointing that some people seem to miss the fact that I was really calling for a discussion on this, and NOT advocating that we never have another snow day.

And, as predicted, I was accused of not caring about the safety of children.

I don't fault superintendents for snow days; they're following the guidelines -- or lack thereof -- of school boards. The solution here is for school boards to have discussions on this, and to try to establish better guidelines and other alternatives.

==> Mike.


P.S. I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been busy with my “other” full-time job. Lots of stuff building up on my list of blog topics, so stay tuned!

I've posted the full piece below, as originally written, in case the link doesn't work.



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When schools ask for money, it’s always “For the kids!” Anyone daring to question that is accused of being “anti-kids”. That same dismissive logic would undoubtedly apply to anyone challenging Michigan’s costly school “snow day” tradition.

Schools are closed “for the safety of the children”, and anyone questioning that must not want to keep our children safe.

Baloney.

Snow days are a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars, and aren’t necessarily the best thing for our children or community.

In Rochester, each school day costs approximately $860,000 (based on a $155 million dollar budget and 180 days of school). Across Oakland County, public schools collectively spend $10.2 million dollars per school day. All that’s wasted on snow days.

It’s time we question whether school closures are truly the best option. In addition to insulting parental judgment, these closures negatively impact our local economy, cause unnecessary stress and hardship on working parents (who are expected to work), and most importantly they rob our children of a days worth of education.

Evidently two factors are considered when closing schools. The first is whether children walking to school – or to bus stops – can do so safely. The second applies to the transportation system itself, and examines whether buses can operate safely, and on-time.

The first factor – while well intentioned – suggests parents are unable to make responsible decisions about their children. In recent years school has even been called off because it’s too cold in the morning. Perhaps the best rebuttal ever came from the parent who said, “Does the school think I’m going to send my kid out barefoot and in a tee-shirt?”

Parents will bundle-up their kids when it’s cold, and will be cautious when streets are bad. They’ll stop teens from driving if they don’t feel they’re ready for the road conditions. Parents aren’t dumb, and they’re free to exercise options like keeping students home, or driving them to school themselves.

If schools truly think parents are unable to assess conditions, then they could issue “weather alerts”.

There are legitimate concerns about the bus transportation system. Diesel fuel begins to gel on really cold mornings, so some buses won’t start. And slow travel resulting from snowy roads can impact the complex bus routing schedules.

But canceling school isn’t the only alternative.

A district could call a “delayed start” or a “no transportation day”. This might pose logistical challenges, but seems preferable to simply quitting for the day.

School closings also have a ripple effect on local businesses. Some families can cope with last-minute closures, but those with two working parents are forced to scramble at 6:00 AM trying to find childcare. Those who can’t must then decide who will miss work, forcing businesses to struggle with worker shortages and lost productivity.

Even if district superintendents feel compelled to close school, there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work Schools are forever claiming they don’t have time for planning, collaborating, professional development, or “record keeping”. Bad weather days could easily be used for these purposes.

But perhaps the biggest problems with school closures are that they represent an education day that is lost forever. The closure announcements don’t read, “School is closed today, and the makeup day will be on…”

Instead, we tolerate a system that bakes in enough “idle time” that we can afford to skip a few days and not impact a child’s education. What’s worse, what does it say about our schools when parents say, “Big deal. So they missed a day of school. So what?”

We are spending a staggering amount of money to educate our children, and ought to view each day as critically important to their future. Examining wasteful traditions like “snow days”, and searching for better alternatives is in the best interests of our students and our community.

22 comments:

EAG said...

As you may have seen, we posted your column on our website, www.educationactiongroup.org. It's on Thug Watch, a few items down...

Anonymous said...

I thought this comment section had to do with Snow Days.

The last one prior to today made little sense. We went with the forecasters and they were wrong.

I happen to live in the North end of the district with over 70 miles of dirt roads. These roads are impassible once the snow partially melts and it then re-freezes to a 1" thick hard ice surface. Gunn Road sucks all sorts of vehicles off into the ditch and thus impedes all traffic. Navigating a 66 passenger bus down these roads is bad enough on good days.

But Mike you would not know this because your view is all centered south of Dutton Road. Your commute to Troy is in a whole different universe than the rural end of our district.

That said we should have just cancelled Hugger, Baldwin, and Delta Kelly. So there I do agree this once.

But back to Hart and Stoney creek.

I happen to own a 3/4 ton 4X4 Heavy Duty Suburban. I can drive my kids anywhere any time. I can even pull a bus up a hill.

I would love to pull Mike's little Cadillac out of the ditch at Buell and Collins as he tried to get through.

The County doesn't get to these roads for several days after a large snow. By then it is packed down hard by all those like me into a thick sheet of ice that persists for days if not weeks.

Oakland Township does not plow like Rochester Hills.

So after a little freezing rain on top of the existing ice, I invite Mike to come out and play in my neighborhood.

Then he can help draft a policy that allows for partial closure.

Like I said I plow my own 800 foot driveway and have the ability to get through almost anything. I have my little monster truck and two 4X4 diesel tractors at my disposal.

Mike you assume too much. Not all parents have my equipment.

So yes the parents (some parents) can get through. You assume that everyone else does too.

Anonymous said...

Is it safe to assume that you and your neighbors are prepared to get in and out of your homes, or are you locked in for days whenever it snows? Most of you probably don't drive "little Cadillacs" like Mike's. You choose to live in the country, and choose your vehicle accordingly.

I'd bet you and every one of your neighbors made it to work on each of these snow days.

I'm not trying to attack you, but understand that it bothers me that my child needlessly misses school because of your lifestyle choice.

Maybe you and your monster truck could serve as the neighborhood transportation service when it snows? Or, if you don't think it's a big deal to miss school, then keep your kids home.

Barry S. said...

Dear Mike;

It's obvious you also think teachers make too much money, should lose their benefits and should work for the same pay for the entire year. Start thinking in the box Mike we Democrats are rising and our time is coming. Morons like you are going to go BYE-BYE.

Barry S.

Mike Reno said...

Hi Barry.

Your response, while eloquent, still leaves me wondering what specific issues you had with my opinion piece.

==> Mike

Deb from Oxford said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your guest opinion. Although I no longer have school-age children, I do have a son who is currently a substitute teacher in two neighboring districts. Often times he is called to substitute the night before, or a few days in advance, and when schools close, he doesn't work or get paid. It's a financial struggle for him when that happens, as he counts on substitute pay for his weekly budget.

That aside, I agree with you that snow days waste taxpayer dollars and are not in the best interest of the children. Certainly there are the exceptions but lately (and more often than not) the weather forecasters fall short with their "dire" predictions of snowfalls that don't materialize. Last Thursday, with the "winter storm" imminent, I'm sure most districts made the decision that night not to open on Friday, well ahead of any precipitation on the ground.

As a child, I went to Royal Oak schools and was fortunate to be able to walk the 1/2 mile to classes. There were plenty of times I slogged through deep snow to get there. I have often voiced my opinion that a delayed start (as you mentioned) on a "snow day" makes sense. It gives the snowplows a chance to clear the roads and allows everyone to make their way safely to school. I understand that "back roads" may be impassable but many parents nowadays own 4-wheel drive vehicles, especially in rural areas, and could safely transport their children to school (on their own way to work!). Children who can get to school safely via walking should not be penalized a snow day just because a few rural kids don't show up because the bus doesn't. I agree with you that schools could announce a "no transportation" day. Those that miss school, miss...those that can get there, should. It's great that we live in a day and age where technology can give us such precise predictions (and I use that term loosely! ) when it comes to weather issues. But parents should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to send a child to school if it's too snowy or too cold. You've hit the proverbial nail on the head.

It's assumed that today's parents don't know what's good for their kids, so they have to be told how to keep them safe. Who ever heard of bike helmets when we were kids? I recently heard that now they are recommended for sledding too. Like that's going to happen! I never wore knee and elbow pads when I rollerskated. Bumps and scrapes were to be expected. Not that safety equipment is a bad thing but I think too often it's overkill.

Thanks for the interesting article. I sure hope the school districts will start to think twice about how "safe" it is to keep children home on snowy days.

Rose Ann said...

The mere thought of all the testosterone it must take to own and operate that ¾-ton 4 x 4 Heavy Duty Suburban and those two 4 x 4 diesel tractors AND plow that “800 foot driveway” makes my little heart skip.

Maybe on our next Snow Day, Mr. Tool Man & some of his north-of-the border neighbors could demo- their great big Oakland Township snow-handling machinery to the school board cast & the hired super- so that all interested parties might develop a realistic appreciation for the rugged resourcefulness of Rochester’s backwoods brethren, before yet another three-quarter million plus goes forever down the "lost opportunities" drain.

In the meantime, late starts, main road only transportation pick-up points, no transportation and staff-only work days are all reasonable alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Mike:

I was getting my hair cut last night, and was talking to the girl about these damn snow days.

She lives in the north end, and had an interesting take.

"When it snows, we park a car or two in the street, so that if it gets real bad we'll still have a way out."

"Sometimes we have to carpool. I got dropped off an hour early for work today."

"Yes, it's inconvenient sometimes, but is life supposed to stop?"

She also said it's usually not too bad anyway because her neighbor plows the road. Maybe it's your friend from above?

Thanks for being there to represent common sense!

Anonymous said...

I don't use the monster truck every day. My little Saturn does quite well in the snow and uses 1/3 the fuel. I do make it to work but that stuck delivery truck blocking Silverbell at the new Goddard school cost me a half hour.

I do in fact drive my kids to school and the neighbors'in the 8 passenger monster truck. I do plow my neighbors out. But those are my choices.

I agree that the remainder of the district should not be punished because of my choice to live in the boonies.

What is missing here in all the whine and sniping is a comprehensive and rational plan for the majority to deal with snow days.

As a kid in Christian Hills we hiked out to Crooks or Adams to get picked up. We used to do "main roads only". But what is a main road? Buell, Hixon, Mt. Vernon, Dequindre, Kern, Gunn?

We should look at that again. But we need to define where the stops are.

As for the three quarter million dollars, there is no proof that it cost us anything. We budget snow days in every year and most staff are on salary not hourly. Some years we do not use our quota. Does that save us 3/4 million? NO. The staff was at Baldwin on the couple snow days I drove by. So again more whining and sniping.

Where is the plan?

Mike Reno said...

I'm not sure what you mean when you say "we budget for snow days". Yes, the state allows up to 30 hours to be "lost" without penality. That doesn't mean we have to use them!

I'm not sure how you are confused about the cost. The annual budget divided by the number of scheduled school days is one way to calculate the cost. If the district is paying everyone's salary for the day, but school is closed, then it's lost.

Perhaps you think that we need to pay additional money on snow days? If so, please understand that is not the case.

I'm glad to read your report that some of the dedicated educators at Baldwin worked those days. It's probably a bit of a stretch to say "the staff" was working, because you are implying that everyone reported for work, which I don't think is true. But nevertheless it's truly good to hear that some were there.

Rose Ann said...

"What is missing here in all the whine and sniping is a comprehensive and rational plan for the majority to deal with snow days."

"All the whine and sniping" was started by Big Tool Man's unnecessary potshots about Mike's south of Dutton 'view' and his "little Cadillac".

It seems to me that Mr. Reno's Oakland Press opinion piece on 'Snow Days' was specifically intended to stimulate discussion so that a better plan CAN be developed. This demonstrates meaningful leadership. Let's hope the rest of the board engages.

Thanks AGAIN, Mike!

Christy said...

Dear Mr. Reno,

While I agree with you that education is important, I was highly offended reading your article printed in the newspaper.

I am a 5th grade teacher in Michigan and have been teaching for eight years.

It was quite an assumption you made assuming that parents will responsibilily dress their children for colder weather. Thursday, I took my students out for recess and 2 of my 28 students came to school with boots. Only 1 of them had snow pants. Most of my students Mr. Reno DO come to school each day in nothing but a tee-shirt, and a pair of pants; some even dressed in tank tops!

Where are those responsible parents you mentioned??? I'd sure like to know!

Sincerely,
A Michigan Teacher

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meemah said...

If people comment that "it's just one day" that the kids are missing (on a snow day), like it's no big deal to lose out on a day's education, then what does that say for the educators??? That the kids don't learn enough in one day to make it worthwhile to attend??? That what they're teaching on any particular day is insignificant??? If that's the case, let's just go down to 3 days a week of school and cram 5 days worth of learning into them.

With parents who have that attitude of "who cares? what's one day?"...it's precisely THAT kind of attitude that carries over into adulthood when it comes to their job or other obligations. Don't feel like going into work? "Who cares? What's one day??" Never mind the strain it puts on your co-workers who DID go to work and now have to pick up your slack! Fail to keep an appointment and not call? "Who cares? Someone else will take my spot." Now the hygenist sits idle until the next appointment shows up. The dentist loses money too.

Have we lost our common sense? It seems Mike Reno still has his!

Anonymous said...

I worked for a school district for over 20 years and I am forever stunned at the parents who constently assume that the school is responsible for raising their children.

When "snow days" occur, and the busses can't make it through your subdivision or wherever, FIGURE IT OUT!!! You could get your kids wherever you WANTED to get them - surely you could get them to school. If, however, you can't that's acceptable, but why call off school for the entire district???

PARENTS MUST BE MORE INVOLVED!!! DO YOU TRULY KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON IN YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT!!! WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Reno's Oakland Press article is more about making negative noise than starting a discussion. Most of the posts here provide proof of that. Let's fire up the masses and get them all mad. But what is the real goal? It does not appear to be problem solving.

The article started the whining. The sniping was posted here and directed at the "super". Now I see it still goes on but with added name calling and personal attacks upon private citizens.

NICE and CLASSY but that is what I expect from this crowd.

In the past personal attacks were removed unless supported and allowed by the moderator. But the moderator knows who and from what IP address all posts come from. So he gets to enforce the rules as he sees fit. It is his site.

So to you who are so concerned about when and where a person that posts here is at "work" or skiing, has an inferiority complex, or makes references about their approximate address, what does any of that have to do with Snow Days? Yes that extra information did nothing for any discussion.

Maybe I work an average of 12 hours per day for 8 pay and I get some free time to tip at windmills.

So name caller what is you're proposal?

To Mike.
We figure in a small amount of hours, you post 30 that we don't have to make up. I don't see money lost I see time.

Instructional time is more important. OK but one post here claims 3/4 million lost.

You say divide the days by the budget but that doesn't work. The money is a wash since we pay teachers by the year not the hour.

We may pay more if we ADD days but you have access to the contract and can answer that.

I am not discounting the time. I am asking where is the plan? I put forth two old ideas. Main road days and close only the few schools at the extremities. But we need a sound policy with clear instructions to execute the plan.

I expect some planning from Mr. Reno not just complaining. I expect Mr. Reno to come out and drive down some of the back roads to gather information and modify his plan based on factual observations. I will even drive him around to discuss what defines a main road out in the boonies. The question of what roads are "main" roads is valid and a detail that must be worked out.

Complaining without problem solving suggestions is just whining. Complaining that "the rest of the board" better come up with solutions with only complaints to guide them is more whining.

Others here intend to bully, name call, and make insults.

So while many northern section roads are still without a plow and one actually needs a truck to navigate them, the insulters still whine.

When it warms and re-freezes we will be looking at more cancelled school or a stuck bus with kids on it late into the night.

How many of you whiners have had a First grader stuck on a bus in the boonies until 8 pm? Policy would not let me pull the bus out nor get my child off it.

So keep up the time clock watching and the name calling.

You are part of the problem while some of us seek a solution.

Mike I mean it about these roads. Email me please on the Yahoo account.

Tool Man, or just Tool, or Marty

Mike Reno said...

Marty.

Sorry if you feel like a victim. I removed the post. Didn't see it until today.

I'm also sorry you don't understand the argument that the district pays for for snow days. The district is paying for those days, even though there is no school. I can't explain it in any more simple terms.

And you again miss the point of the article. I was trying to give reasons for the board (all boards) to discuss this issue. The solution can't be decreed by you or me. You offered some great ideas. I too offered ideas for late start, and "no transportation" days.

I've talked with people about your suggestion for selective closings. I've been told that was tried, and it works fine for elementary schools. But it becomes more complicated when you have secondary schools that spam several elementary boundaries, in which some of the students would be expected to report, and some would not.

I've also heard that the "no transportation" days might make some feel discriminated against.

I believe the best thing would be to hold a community discussion, where the board could toss out these ideas for discussion. That is what I meant in my article when I said by "examine".

==> Mike.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. We may rarely agree but a long term solution to this is past due.

I totally agree that we pay.

We pay with lost opportunity.

We pay with added burden later in the year.

I too see the schedule nightmare when we attempt to close only some. And the no transport is problematic.

So based on the emotions here I think a plan is in order.

adam mclane said...

Mike. Thanks for the clarification over on my blog. I spoke to the superintendent of my district today and he informed me that today's cold day was indeed the balance of their 30 hours. So, from here on out they are in make-up land.

My statement was based off an announcement in one of the buildings that any more days would result in make-up days. I guess the announcement was incorrect.

Keep up the good work. It's worth it.

Anonymous said...

I guess the answer to snow days is for districts to remove the option of buses altogether. It is not mandatory that they provide it. If they eliminate buses they no longer need to be concerned about how the children will get to school nor if they will get there safely.

It will become (gasp) the parents responsibility. Yes the same parents who drop their kids at the bus stop and immediately leave for work without any knowledge as to whether or not their child got safely on the bus. The same parents who use school as their free babysitting service.

See Mike, it's a win win. With no buses you won't lose your babysitter on snowy days and the district will save money by not providing transportation.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. Now previous anonymous bitchslaps the good teachers in the district with a veiled mouthpiece of same parents, including no doubt himself or herself, by insinuating that they are providing free babysitting service! I am surprised, but waiting with anticipation the comeback that it was meant to read reduced-rate challenged, professional consulting, or some like jargon.

Anonymous said...

Actually you'd be surprised to know I am not a teacher, nor in the employ of any school district.

Just a mom, who would rather have a snow day and know her children are safe at home.

Just a mom who sees and hears that some parents expect school to babysit, feed and clothe their child. What schools realize that many don't is that a significant number of parents would not take the extra steps and care needed to ensure their child's safe arrival at school during bad weather. The number of "drop and runs" at the bus stop amaze me.

Snow Days ARE about safety. The comments about "Well we adults have to go to work." come from a place of ignorance.

I'm sorry if snow days affect your job and if you must use a sick day or two during the year to care for your OWN children. Deal with it. You chose to have kids, this is part of it.

This was my first post on Mike's blog and I will continue to post as Anonymous, if I feel compelled to comment on something I believe in or disagree with. This is the internet folks.