A collective sigh of relief was heaved last week by Michigan’s parents, teachers, school administrators, summer camp directors and staff, child care providers and anyone who has anything to do with school-age kids, whether they be your grandchildren or the host of high school kids you hire at the Dairy-Whip.
Finally, we too are free of winter’s grip.
While the few state residents not included in the above list started their warm weather preparations months ago, many of us stayed stuck in winter limbo by virtue of a snow day debacle that persisted even as the daffodils appeared.
Less than six weeks before summer vacation, we were still caught up in the polar vortex of Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 — as our Legislature seemed frozen for months, only to engage in a last-minute political snowball fight.
The thaw came in the form of legislation that strikes those four freezing days from our schools’ snow day totals, which will put districts back in the black and on track to finish the school year as expected.
Wicked winter weather had pushed many schools past their allotted six days. Then winter pushed past the 3 more allowed by wavier. Most districts found themselves in the make-up day zone — a highly undesirable place.
For example, Traverse City Area Public Schools racked up 11 snow days, leaving two days to make up.
Other schools, like Manton, had 15 snow days. Still other districts had 20-plus.
Legislators told schools they would solve the problem, as schools need to provide 1,098 hours of instruction and 180 days to have a school year (and get their state foundation allowance).
But what to do about the lost wages suffered by school hourly employees became a political game, as the House measure included a provision to pay those who didn’t get paid through their labor contract or school agreement.
Michigan’s Republican-majority Senate took issue with what they saw as an unrelated pro-union move and stripped out the provision.
Senate Democrats (newly empowered in number since the 2018 election and able to defeat a Republican supermajority) retaliated by undercutting the bill’s “immediate effect,” rendering it useless for this school year.
Enough Democrats relented from the stance to send the bill to the governor on Thursday without the provision, just the encouragement to school districts to “do right” by their hourly employees.
The bill headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed it Friday.
But now that the immediate big question is answered — we’re wondering why we impose a middle manager on that situation anyway.
Individual districts negotiate contracts with their employees and employee groups — the state has nothing to do with it. District boards of education also set their own policies and calendar. Districts get the basic parameters — 1,098 hours of instruction and 180 days — and go from there.
Some Michigan districts start before Labor Day. Some don’t. Some get a lot of snow on a regular basis; some not as much.
Some schools use a “balanced calendar approach” (more like year-round school, without a big summer break) like the Madison School District, Ypsilanti Community Schools and Davison Community Schools — some, like us who rely on summer business like the farmers who started our traditional school year — don’t.
We can appreciate that the state has a say in cutting days out of the overarching equation, but we think our district school boards can do the math and figure out what works in their community.
While we know that politics is often part of any democratic equation, holding a big chunk of kid-connected public hostage to winter should at least earn a demerit.
School boards should have more say in problem-solving for their districts.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE