Snowy Decision

Snowy Decision

Board to drop two unused snow days.

Blue Ridge Middle School teacher Kelly Burk got two-fifths of what she wanted.

Burk urged the School Board to take any of the five remaining unused snow days off the school calendar.

“The question of fairness comes into play,” said Burk, who teaches mathematics, language arts and social sciences at the Purcellville school. She said Loudoun County teachers work “more days and more hours than other localities.”

The School Board adopted a policy Oct. 22 to remove two days from the district’s fixed calendar, if at least two snow days are not used by April 1. School Board member Thomas Reed (At large) offered the compromise motion.

“We’re in fact taking away instruction. We’re not giving … back something,” said Reed, adding that he sees the unused snow days as “bonus days” for the curriculum and for students. At the same time, the policy allows the School Board to recognize the contribution of teachers and the long hours they work, he said.

“Teachers are not compensated for all the time they spend beyond the contract,” said Warren Geurin (Sterling). “This is something the public supports.”

SCHOOL BOARD members reported receiving hundreds of comments from teachers and parents, most of them in support of dropping the unused snow days from the school calendar. Geary Higgins (Catoctin) said he received 150 such comments. “The support of the community, from what we’ve seen, is pretty overwhelming,” Higgins said. “Our calendar with the snow days on it exceeds the state’s calendar by 16 days.”

The district’s calendar includes 185 instruction days and 198 teacher contract days, which has remained fixed since 1990 by retaining the same starting and ending times, days off and graduation schedules from year to year. Five days beyond the state’s requirements are built in for snow days and another 11 days are attributed to the length of the school day exceeding state requirements.

In the past 10 years, the School District used 55 snow days, an average of 5.5 snow days per year. Since 1997, when the unused snow-day policy was established, the district used two snow days during the 1997-98 year, five days in 1998-99, seven days in 1999-2000, three days in 2000-01 and one day in 2001-02.

“If time off from school is a return, and being in school is a loss to them, we might as well as close the doors. If that isn’t a bonus, if that isn’t a gift … what are we working for?” said Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run).

HARRY HOLSINGER (Blue Ridge) gave a list of 11 reasons why unused snow days should remain on the school calendar. “We must understand our primary obligation is the education of children,” he said, adding that the initiative will undermine teachers’ professionalism. “You better give some time off because that’s all they’ll get. … That sounds like paternalism to me.”

Holsinger’s list includes the notion that graduation may fall as many as 10 days after the last day of school, students who need more instruction and testing time “will be short-changed on this” and that “virtually no money will be saved.”

The savings amount is projected at $42,000 for gas and food expenses, since teachers and staff are already contracted to work a certain number of days. Holsinger said taxpayers may be “outraged” they are paying for but not receiving five days of instruction, which costs $1.13 million per day.

Holsinger, along with Cassell, Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer) and Frederick Flemming (Leesburg), voted against the policy, which marginally passed with a 5-4 vote. The policy takes effect this school year.

“Mr. Holsinger finds us in a good compromise,” said chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles).

Superintendent Edgar Hatrick said the School Board is obligated to set the “best policy, which sometimes means compromising extreme positions.” He said anything the board and School District does to decrease instruction time is not true to their mission. He considers closing school for an emergency or inclement weather a matter of giving up time. “It bothers me when we give up instructional time for anything less than an emergency,” he said.


* Four health-clinic assistants came before the School Board requesting a job reclassification to that of health-clinic technicians, a rewriting of their job descriptions and a re-evaluation of their job levels including salaries.

"I think we should reclassify the health-clinic assistants," Geurin said. "Elementary health-clinic folks do more today in 2002 than their job descriptions written in the mid-1990s. ... They ought to be paid accordingly and classified accordingly."

Geurin said the Personnel Services Committee will review their requests.

* The board heard a report on the projected enrollment for Sept. 30, 2003, which is expected to be 40,250 students. This year’s enrollment is 37,352 students.