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Bill passed by Pa. Senate would give schools leeway to make up snow days

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 9:38 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
It’s two days into spring but snow still is falling on Friday, March 21, 2014, as a man makes his way past the former Jerome Oldsmobile dealership on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington.

On the heels of a historic winter, the state Senate passed a bill that gives school districts more flexibility to make up snow days without seeking state approval.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, would allow districts to add extra hours, rather than days, to fulfill yearly educational requirements.

It would allow districts to hold class one Saturday per month to make up for the missed school days.

“This bill is designed to give the districts as much flexibility as possible,” Corman said. “This winter was the toughest we've had in years. By allowing schools to tack on extra hours, they could make up those snow days without having to go into late June.”

The bill passed in the Senate on Wednesday with unanimous approval.

As of Thursday, the House had not scheduled a vote on the bill, according to Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods. The House reconvenes on March 31.

“Obviously, we'll review the legislation,” Miskin said, “but we believe the state Department of Education already has a system in place to take care of the issue.”

Under the current system, schools must apply for permission from the state to calculate the remainder of their school year on an hourly basis. Only districts in danger of not fulfilling the state's 180-day requirement by the June 30 deadline are eligible to apply for an hourly schedule.

Schools that cannot maintain 180 days of school must complete at least 900 hours of instruction for first- through sixth-graders and 990 hours for grades seven through 12.

The state Education Department does not have an option for Saturday classes to make up the hours.

“I don't know why it wouldn't go through, because it can't hurt,” Corman said. “It takes one more step out of the equation. The Senate put it on the fast track to get it done in time.”

Since the legislation applies to this year, the House would need to pass the bill by April for it go into effect, according to Corman. He said the bill, Senate Bill 1281, was modeled after legislation that passed in 1996 when extensive flooding hit northeastern Pennsylvania.

Corman maintains that since the hours of instruction would remain constant, teachers' contracts would be unaffected by the longer days or weekend work.

A Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman declined to speculate. The association has not developed a stance on the bill.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association supports the bill, said spokesman John Callahan.

“When you have a winter like this, it gets tough sometimes to meet the requirements down the stretch,” he said. “You don't want to go late into June because the students can have summer jobs lined up. They might — even our faculty might — have vacations planned, so it just makes sense to allow them to do this without (applying to the state).”

New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone said his and other local districts are largely unaffected by the process since the winter was more severe in eastern than western Pennsylvania.

He said New Kensington-Arnold is not alone in allowing 15 to 20 school days before the June 30 deadline in case of emergency closings. This year the district needs to make up one day, which it will on June 9.

Still, Pallone is in favor of the legislation.

“As an administrator, you always want as many tricks in your bag as you can,” he said. “You can't know what the future holds; to have those tools at your disposal down the stretch would certainly be a convenience.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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