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Published: 2/7/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

REVERSAL OF POLICY

Closings spur TPS to ponder bus service

Durant says most students must walk in snow, cold

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

This winter has been so disruptive to Ohio schools that state education officials are considering expanding the window for tests, and it has caused the Toledo Public Schools’ leader to consider a return to bus service for students.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have proposed one-time legislation that would lower the minimum number of instruction days for schools that closed because of bad weather. That effectively would give districts four more “calamity days,” than the five most districts schedule.

The Toledo district has been off nine days as of Thursday, Superintendent Romules Durant said. Plans for how the district might make up that lost time depend on state action. TPS called for a two-hour delay this morning.

In the meantime, district officials announced last month they are preparing a contingency plan to make up several days using online coursework or, for students without home Internet access, take-home materials. It’s a concept called “blizzard bags” used by some schools.

While TPS obviously hasn’t been alone in closing for snow or cold, district officials have said some of their circumstances are unique, blaming budget cuts on the district’s limited bus service.

“We know that many of our kids are walking, which creates another hazard,” Mr. Durant said.

In 2010, TPS stopped busing high school students and reduced its transportation for elementary students to the state minimum of a 2-mile radius around elementary schools. Any elementary student who lives closer must find alternate transportation.

Many students take TARTA buses to school, but most walk.

Complaints about the lack of bus service started as soon as availability was reduced, but the long walks in snow and cold for many students have raised those concerns.

Today was a perfect example: The National Weather Service issued a wind-chill advisory between 9 p.m. Thursday and noon today, with projected wind chills between -10 and -20.

District officials have heard loud and clear community concerns about walking conditions for students, Mr. Durant said.

“I think based on the calamities, parents have really shown an appreciation for having transportation,” he said.

Pricey idea

Mr. Durant said he may consider a proposal to reinvest in student busing, a pricey proposition.

The cost to resume busing students within 1 mile of a school would be about $4 million, in part because TPS must offer the same service to parochial and charter schools within the district, he said.

That kind of an expense isn’t in the budget, Mr. Durant said, but it is worth considering.

While bus transportation is an expense only under consideration, school closures cost TPS in other ways. For example, its contract with its teachers’ union stipulates teachers are paid their daily rate for any days tacked on to the school year. Many area districts don’t carry that provision.

Washington Local teachers don’t get paid for extra days the district must make up, Superintendent Patrick Hickey said. For now, he’s hoping they won’t have to work for free.

He believes the state will add four calamity days. Since the district scheduled two extra days, they were allowed seven, and Washington Local has been out 11 days as of Thursday.

“We are feeling pretty confident that the legislature is going to give us the four days,” he said.

As of Thursday, Oregon City Schools had missed 13 days of school.

Superintendent Lonny Rivera said Oregon scheduled two extra days, so with calamity days, it would need to make up six days right now.

But with four possible extra calamity days, Oregon may have to make up fewer. 

District officials await the action from state lawmakers before deciding how to make up the days.

District leaders considered “blizzard bags,” he said, but it had no curriculum developed and didn’t want to rush out work for students.

“We didn’t want to put something out there that just appeared to our community as just busy work,” Mr. Rivera said.

Attend Feb. 17

Bowling Green City Schools plans to be open Feb. 17, which is President's Day, to make up a calamity day.

The school board also approved the “blizzard bag” model to make up three days, with students either completing work online or at school within a two-week period.

The Otsego Board of Education voted Wednesday to add instruction days next Friday and Feb. 17, and on April 21.

The Perrysburg district, like Oregon, is waiting for state direction before it schedules makeup days. Superintendent Tom Hosler said that if more calamity days aren’t added, the school system would add days on June 6, 9, 10, and 11.

While the district wouldn’t have to pay teachers extra for those days, Mr. Hosler said Perrysburg is losing money during closed days because the food service department isn’t bringing in revenue but still has operational costs.

Staff writer Matt Thompson contributed to this report.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

nrosenkrans@theblade.com, or

419-724-6086, or on

Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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