Sometimes it's the transportation director, but it might just as easily be the business manager, a principal, or even the superintendent. But whoever it is, he or she is responsible for a critical decision - whether the weather is bad enough to warrant using up one of the school's precious "snow days."
They cruise the streets at 3 or 4 in the morning, sometimes even before the plows have made their rounds, testing for ice as well as blowing and drifting snow. They scrutinize forecast maps, tracking cold and warm fronts as closely as any Blizzard Bob or Doppler Dan.
And then they take out their crystal balls and maybe even study the patterns of scattered bones to peer through the meteorological mists before making the fateful decision.
Yet it seems that no matter what course they choose, they're bound to upset someone.
Fail to call school off and, as sure as day follows night, 5 a.m. flurries will turn into the storm of the century by noon and parents will be raking school officials over the coals for endangering their children.
Cancel, and, as sure as rain on laundry day, working parents scrambling to arrange last-minute baby-sitters will already be mapping out notes accusing school officials of being weather wimps.
Leaving aside their myriad other responsibilities (little things like educating children, balancing budgets, and nurturing teachers), weather presents school officials with an amazingly complex problem. It requires them to balance the safety of students and staff with the need to conserve "calamity days" against future storms, liability in case of weather-related accidents, the potential costs of extending the school year, and the needs of parents, among other things.
Any fool can step outside and know it's snowing. School officials are asked to know if it's going to be snowing in five or six hours, how much will accumulate, and how good a job the road crews will do keeping roads clear.
Most schools in this area were closed for at least two days last week - some rural districts were closed longer - to the delight of most children and the consternation of many parents.
But in every such instance, we assume, and trust, that school officials made the call that put safety ahead of all other considerations.