Despite cost and negative academic impact, additional snow days coasting to legislative approval

Ohio has long awarded districts five calamity days – school days that
can be missed and not made up due to inclement weather, power outages, or other
catastrophic incidents.  In 2009,
Governor Strickland argued – as one of the stronger components of his education
reform package – that Ohio in fact needed to add days to the school year to catch up with our better-performing
peers nationally and internationally. 
The legislature balked at finding the funding to add more days to the
school year and compromised with the governor by reducing the number of
calamity days from five to three, in effect lengthening the school year at no
cost.  Strickland’s intention was to
continue reducing the number of calamity days down to zero and then begin
lengthening the school year after that.

What a difference an $8 billion budget hole, an election, and an
unusually snowy winter, makes. 

Districts were plowing through snow days in mid-December, an oddity for
most of Ohio, and by mid-January many districts, especially rural ones, had
used up their allotted days and were rearranging the remaining school year
calendar to make up the time missed. 
When the new General Assembly got underway last month, State Representatives
John Carey (R-Wellston) and Casey Kozlowski (R-Ashtabula County) introduced House Bill 36,
which would increase from three to five the number of calamity days school
districts aren’t required to make up and give districts additional flexibility
on how they made up days after those five.

The bill had its first hearing last week before the Ohio House
education committee (it will have a second hearing this evening and a companion
bill is being considered in the Senate), during which its sponsors testified
that granting more snow days to schools is a matter of safety.  Committee members agreed that students and
school employees shouldn’t be traveling to school in unsafe conditions. But
lawmakers on both sides of the aisle made strong cases for requiring districts
to make up time missed and no solid arguments in favor of the snow days were
presented.

Rep. Ronald Gerberry (R-Youngstown), whose legislative district borders
western Pennsylvania, pointed out that the weather patterns and road conditions
on his side of the border are the same as those in nearby communities in the
Keystone State, yet school kids in Pennsylvania make up every day of school
that they miss.

Rep. Clayton Luckie (D-Dayton) commented that most Ohio students need
more time in the classroom, not less, and questioned the academic impact
of
allowing more calamity days. “We’re already behind, why take away more
class
time?” he asked Reps. Carey and Kozlowski. Ironically, Wednesday’s
committee
discussion about the bill followed an update from State Superintendent
Deb
Delisle on efforts to raise the rigor of Ohio’s standards and model
curricula
in order for Ohio to become a national and international leader in
academic performance.  During that discussion the point was made
that Ohio has a shorter
school year
than many other states and certainly most top-performing
countries.

And several lawmakers inquired about the fiscal impact of snow days.
After all, the state still pays districts for those days, and teachers and most
staff still receive paychecks for them, even though they aren’t actually
working.  Reps. Carey and Kozlowski
didn’t have an answer to the monetary cost of snow days, but rough estimates
are easy to calculate.

Based on 2009 data (the most recent year for which numbers are
available) of average teacher salaries and the number of teachers working in
districts, one can calculate that the Columbus City Schools spends nearly $1
million in regular classroom teachers’ salaries and benefits alone for each day
that school is closed and not made up later in the year. 

The Little Miami School District outside Cincinnati is one of ten Ohio
districts in “fiscal emergency” and its
situation
is so dire that district officials are seriously considering
dissolving the district altogether.  That
district spends about $59,000 on teacher salaries per snow day. If the calamity
day bill passes, the district will have spent more than $290,000 that it
certainly doesn’t have to spare to pay teachers for days they haven’t taught.

Across the Ohio 8 urban districts, more than $18.5
million would be spent on just teacher salaries if the districts all used five
snow days annually. And these numbers just reflect the cost of
regular teachers – not principals, administrators, or other staff members who
would be off work but paid for snow days.

Nevertheless, despite weak arguments in favor of the bill and while
more important education matters are left untended,
relieving districts’ snow-day pain has the apparent support of the governor and
legislative leadership and seems headed for swift passage. 

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