Snow days taking toll on area schools

With the wicked weather seen across much of Western New York this winter, including Wednesday as the first blizzard warning Chautauqua County saw in quite a while, most area school districts are now forced to dip into vacation days due to using up or exceeding all their allotted snow days.

Of 11 districts located in the coverage area of the OBSERVER, five (Brocton, Chautauqua Lake, Gowanda, Silver Creek and Westfield) have already started taking away vacation days from their calendars, while superintendents at four other districts (Cassadaga Valley, Forestville, Pine Valley and Ripley) are holding their breath since they have now used up all their districts’ snow days. Two of the area’s largest districts, Dunkirk and Fredonia, still have a few snow days in the bank.

“Quite frankly, I’m hopeful we can get through the rest of winter without using our last two snow days,” Fredonia Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said. “We have to make sure we get at least 180 student days in, and if we use more than two more snow days, then I would have to … look at the calendar and choose days built in as vacation days for students and add them back to school days for them.”

Since superintendents cannot use national holidays as school days, many are looking to the front- or back-end of spring recess or the long Memorial Day weekend for vacation days to axe.

“(Wednesday) was snow day number six for us,” Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein said, adding four were built into the calendar and two vacation days were deemed as reserve snow days. “The snow days we took were all weather-related, but we had five that were either temperature or snow, and one was when the village of Brocton had a water main break, which was also weather-related since it was five degrees outside.”

Brocton has now dipped into its reserve snow days, making May 22 and 23 instruction days.

“Probably Easter Monday will be the next day we look at if we have to use another snow day,” Hertlein said. “Obviously we’re chewing up vacation days now.”

Silver Creek Superin-tendent Daniel Ljiljanich said his district is in a similar boat to Brocton.

“(Wednesday) was our sixth snow day of the year and we initially had four days scheduled and we had three reserve days we could use in the event we needed to,” he said. “We have already pulled two of those. After another one, we’ll be dipping further into our April break.”

Ljiljanich pointed out this year was on the longer side when considering the number of school days, which has helped soften the blow the weather has dealt to district calendars.

“That meant there were more days, so there was a few more days off for a lot of us that we could pull without actually dipping into the actual vacations,” he ex-plained.

DiFonzo explained districts need to fit at least 180 days of instruction into their school year so they can receive all their state aid.

“Before you can get any kind of relief for the 180-day total, you’ve got to use any vacation days left in your schedule,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘May I please have some kind of variance now,’ if you’ve got any vacation days left, since you’ll be told to use those first.”

If those vacation days (minus national holidays) are all used up and a school district is still forced to drop below 180 days for some reason, the district may ask the state to forgive the difference.

“I’ve never seen that (the dip below 180 days) happen in my 30 years of education,” DiFonzo said.

With the first day of spring, March 20, drawing near, seasonable weather cannot come soon enough for many of these superintendents.

“Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for no more snow,” Forestville Super-intendent Charles Leichner said. “It’s been a difficult winter for everyone.”

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