Snow way! District’s days off gone with the drifts

Julia, Anastasia and Kevin enjoying the snow over the weekend at lower Hasbrouck Park. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Julia, Anastasia and Kevin enjoying the snow over the weekend at lower Hasbrouck Park. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

(Editor’s note: The KCSD cancelling school on Friday, Jan. 10, means that a day will have to be taken from Memorial Day break.)

Winter is only officially a few weeks old, but thanks to an eventful run of weather, the Kingston City School District has already used up its entire allotment of snow days for the 2013-14 school year.

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Heading into the holiday recess in late December, the district still had two of its six snow days remaining, but those were eaten up by a storm which arrived last Thursday and stuck around through early on Friday. Kids who celebrated the extension of the long winter break may find themselves wishing it hadn’t turned out that way later in the year, because every snow day from here on out results in an already-scheduled day off turning into another day in the classroom.

Calling a snow day is a decision based on a complex series of criteria — it’s not as simple as looking out the window in the morning and seeing flakes falling from the sky. Of course, the time-honored visual option used by optimistic children doesn’t necessarily hurt, either.

“We have a meteorologist we call, and a service which provides us with a forecast,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “I don’t like to close on a forecast; I like to see some flakes at least.”

The school district’s forecasts come from the FleetWeather Group, a Hopewell Junction-based company which has been in business for over 43 years. On Dec. 10 of last year, the day the district held its successful bond referendum vote for a Kingston High School renovation plan, Padalino said the forecast showed a 90 percent likelihood that a winter storm would hit the area just as students were boarding their buses in the morning. The decision was made to use a snow day, but the storm never came. Padalino, who has the final say on snow days, as well as one- and two-hour delays, said it was a regrettable choice, but one he felt he had to make.

“I’m responsible for the safety of 7,000 students who are getting on school buses every day,” Padalino said. “People think I make a lot of decisions and have a lot of power, but really, the only decision I make on my own is snow days. I get a lot of help and input from a lot of people, but it’s the only thing I don’t have to call the [school] board and get a vote on.”

While Padalino makes the final decision on snow days, he relies heavily on Transportation Director Judy Falcon for information. Falcon, who is in her 13th year with the district, has been in the transportation industry since 1980, and perhaps understands the rhythms of the sprawling school district better than anyone. Falcon is in constant contact with various district employees who live in and drive from some of the area’s notoriously troublesome neighborhoods. Falcon also hits the streets to see for herself.

“I begin about 3:45 a.m., but we actually start some conversations the night before, especially with those big storms we had coming in recently,” Falcon said. “I drive between 4 and 5 a.m., and then I give Dr. Padalino a call.”

Falcon’s standard reconnaissance route takes her down Creek Locks Road, through Main Street in Bloomington, to hilly Dewitt Mills Road, and over to Linderman Avenue.

“She goes out and does her routes, she talks to the highway people in all the towns and the city and gets an idea of when they’re getting out, how long it’ll be before their roads are cleared,” Padalino said. “That’s an important part of how we make our decision about delaying, closing or opening on time.”

The Kingston City School District covers a lot of territory, with topographic variances that might not be apparent to everyone.

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