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Harsh winter cuts into school breaks

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Weather forecasts call for more snow this week, but area schools are still dealing with the last round of winter weather.

So far, the second week of spring break has disappeared for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students.

Snow makeup days will fill the March 24 to 28 schedule with class time. Nearby Flat Rock-Hawcreek will be in session Tuesday through Friday of that week.

Meanwhile, Jennings County High School seniors might be receiving their diplomas a week late, unless options such as Saturday classes are considered.

BCSC Superintendent

John Quick said families will still have nine days of break when including the weekends, and the district has worked hard to communicate with parents not to extend vacation planning past that.

Last year, 85 to 90 percent of students showed up for the makeup days immediately following spring break, and Quick said he expects similar attendance this year.

School already is scheduled to be in session April 18 for another makeup day for both districts, and any additional makeup days will be tacked on to the end of the school year, scheduled for June 3.

Commencement is set for June 6 at Hauser High School and June 7 at the Columbus high schools, so both districts have a three-day window before they’ll need to find other ways to make up missed days.

Jennings County Schools, where students have missed 11 full days of classroom time so far this year, is facing a bigger dilemma.

Superintendent Terry Sargent said all built-in makeup days have been extinguished, and tacking the days to the end of the year would extend school past commencement.

“I would anticipate, being familiar with high school students, that if you say to a senior that they need to come back here for three or four days after commencement, your attendance will be very low,” he said.

So he has sent a proposal to the school board to move commencement back a week to June 7, which is expected to be voted on at the Feb. 10 meeting.

That would allow for three additional makeup days if needed, but Sargent said he is expecting up to six more snow days.

“We’ve still got another month of winter weather,” he said.

Scheduling problems

If the district does use the three makeup days, students might be required to attend school at other times, such as during spring break, Good Friday or on Saturdays.

“This will take a lot of cooperation and coordination in the community, but it can be done,” he said.

Scheduling the makeup days can be a headache, and teachers are finding that actually making up the days can be just as stressful.

“Due to the school atmosphere, there’s a pressure on almost all educators after a closing or delayed start time to try to make time up in their curriculum,” said Julie Miller, executive director of Family Services, Inc.

But the teachers’ frustrations are compounded when they find themselves in a classroom full of kids who are displaying behavioral issues because they have been cooped up inside their homes.

District costs

BCSC administrators said the severe weather is as costly as it is inconvenient, especially this year.

A snow day in a typical winter may save the district money, BCSC energy manager Charlie McCoy said.

“Since the makeup days are in March and June, it might actually save energy because the demand for heating would be less in March than in January.”

But that’s not the case this year.

The extreme cold has increased energy consumption because precautions are being taken to prevent freezing in the event of system failure from a power outage.

“The cost of the increased energy consumption would be minimal compared to the repair cost of a HVAC and plumbing system that freezes,” McCoy said.

It also costs about $10,000 per inch for snow removal when considering direct costs of plowing and the associated fuel and overtime pay, Director of Operations Steve Forster said.

The National Weather Service in Indianapolis recorded local snow accumulation of 0.10 inches of snow in November, 6.2 inches in December and 14.7 inches in January.

That adds up to a $210,000 bill for the school district, which does not consider the cost of utilities.

Vaughn Silva, assistant superintendent for financial services for BCSC, said snow removal is built into the capital projects fund in the budget.

“But just like your home budget, some years we spend less and some years we spend more,” he said. “If we spend all of the budget for snow removal, then we have to look at conserving in some other area.”

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