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Winter tests communities

Date: 2/9/2011

Feb. 9, 2011

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — Record snowfalls have pummeled the Northeast this winter, wreaking havoc on more than just the morning commute.

Municipalities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more on snow and ice removal this winter than they have in years, while school superintendents are weighing the costs of scheduling, student safety and negotiations with teachers' unions in order to meet the state's mandated 180 pupil days.

"It's almost a futile effort because we just get more snow. It's getting to the point that we just have nowhere to put it," Jack Dowd, director of West Springfield's Department of Public Works (DPW), said.

Jim Mulvenna, director of Westfield's DPW, concurred, noting the Highway Department's garage is at storage capacity. "It was able to handle the first few snow storms," he said of the facility, adding that snow is now being transported to city-owned property on Cabot Road.

The city budgeted $400,000 for snow and ice removal this fiscal year but has spent more than $900,000 thus far, an increase of $400,000 from last year, according to Mulvenna.

"Picking up snow is a costly venture. The sun is the best piece of equipment we have," Dowd said, noting that it costs $3,700 per hour to plow West Springfield's 130 miles of road.

The biggest problem, he explained, is that the snow isn't melting. "The snow we got in December is still there," Dowd added.

Jeff Neece, director of Southwick's DPW, said, "It's an ongoing battle to clear up the roads and then get prepared for the next storm. Thus far, it has been the most challenging winter and month of January [in recent years]."

School Superintendents must now ensure the state that they'll meet the required 180 pupil days without exception.

Agawam School Superintendent Dr. Mary Czajkowski noted that administrators received a memorandum from the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last week, advising them on how best to manage their calendars.

"One of the things is that there will be no waivers regarding pupil time," Czajkowski said of the memo.

The district has taken seven snow days thus far, pushing the final school day to June 24. Czajkowski said if more snow days are needed past June 30, she'd have to consider taking away scheduled vacation time or renegotiating with the teachers' union.

"I am certainly concerned about people, not only teachers but families, that have scheduled vacations for both February and April. I'm also concerned about our attendance rate if we look to go to school during a vacation or on a Saturday," she said. "We have to meet a 93 percent attendance rate in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress," Czajkowski continued.

West Springfield School Superintendent Russell Johnson noted his district is fairing a little better than most, having taken only five snow days so far. As of Feb. 8, the district is scheduled to end this academic year on June 23.

"We have another six days of wiggle room [before June 30]," he said, adding that it would "take a serious blizzard" to use up those days this winter.

Russell said he "would not begin to speculate" about what he'd do if those six days were used.

"It's only February and more snow is on the way. It's become a bit of a challenge but Mother Nature is just beyond our control," Czajkowski said.

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