Superintendent: Winter has been hard on Aurora school operations

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by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR

Aurora -- Schools superintendent Russ Bennett said late last week that this winter "has been difficult [for the schools] in so many ways."

His comments came one day after state lawmakers took final action on legislation to provide a few extra "calamity" days -- nine total -- for schools contending with snow, ice and frigid temperatures.

Bennett said the Aurora district has used seven calamity days. "As superintendent for nine years, we only used five days [the number per year usually allowed] one other time," he said. "We've also had years with no snow days."

Bennett admitted there is "no win in ever calling a snow day. I understand the daycare situations for parents, the safety concerns for our high school student drivers, our bus drivers transporting a full bus load of students, and the list goes on and on."

He added he knows it is always upsetting to some when a snow day is declared, "but I make the best decision as it relates to the safety of our students." Bennett said the legislation passed last week really doesn't affect us, because the extra four days don't come into play until a district uses both its five calamity days and four contingency days. Therefore, districts that use more than nine days will receive four days of reprieve.

Board of Education President Gerald Kohanski explained on bad weather days Bennett is at his job at 4 a.m. driving roads, talking to police and road crews, listening to weather reports, talking to other area superintendents and consulting with Kohanski and other School Board members before making a decision to close the schools.

"BENNETT and the Board not only try to live by our motto of 'Kids Come First,' but superimpose the concept of 'Our Kids' Safety Comes Before Everything Else,'" said Kohanski.

"Bennett has an awesome responsibility and the community is very fortunate to have an individual with his nine-plus years of experience managing this type of situation.

"I'm aware of the negative communications he sometimes receives, no matter what the decision is. He bears this burden with equanimity and professionalism."

The Ohio House and Senate both gave their approvals March 12 to a compromise plan that will provide four additional calamity days once districts have used their initial five already outlined in state law and four contingency days they planned for at the start of the school year.

The final votes were 87-5 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate, and the bill headed to Gov. John Kasich for his consideration. The provisions will take effect as soon as the governor signs, thanks to an emergency clause added by lawmakers.

The action ended weeks of back and forth between the House and Senate after Republicans in the two chambers balked at different calamity day proposals.

The House passed legislation allowing up to four additional days off for students and two for teachers, with two additional professional development days.

The Senate version called for four extra snow days for students, once districts completed four contingency days outlined in their school year plans.

Marc Kovac, Dix Communications statehouse bureau reporter, contributed to this story.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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