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Harsh New England Winter Creates Big Disruptions for Schools

Spring is about to officially begin, but for many in the Northeast it will continue to feel like winter. The barrage of snow has meant good news for the ski industry, but for some schools in New England the wintry weather is causing headaches.

As of March 19, New Hampshire's SAU 19 has accumulated six snow days. An additional two days had delayed openings. With make-up days now added to their calendar, the last day of school has been pushed to June 28. The schedule change is particularly problematic for the district, as the 28th is the last day they can have classes; it's the last weekday before June 30, the end date for some teacher contracts.

According to Superintendent Stacy Buckley, the most realistic chance for getting out earlier would be increasing each remaining school day by half of an hour. This could eliminate the need to make up two or three of the snow days. The plan is currently pending approval from all district schools.

Other solutions were considered, but wouldn't be as practical; eliminating April vacation so close to the break would create disruptions for many families who have already made plans for the time off. Adding school days on Saturdays is technically a possibility, but could also be very disruptive for families to work with. Even the proposed change for slightly longer school days will require some adaptation.

"We had to do it a few years ago," Buckley said. "You wouldn't think that just a half an hour would make a difference, but it's an adjustment."

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One of the complications for SAU 19 is that the district's three towns run on different contract cycles. Dunbarton and New Boston start July 1, but Goffstown doesn't start until Sept. 1. Because of this, the school year can't start until September and can't go later than June. While they schedule with room for make-up days, there's no real "average" they can try to plan for.

"Last year we only had three [snow days]," Buckley said. "The weather is unpredictable, and this is New England."

This past winter's storms were ill-timed for them, with many hitting the area on weekday mornings. Some regional schools fared better. Bangor, Maine, for example, didn't have their first snow day until March 19. Despite having above-average snowfall this winter, the storms arrived to Bangor at times that allowed them to still carry on with classes for most of the season, while southern Maine and New Hampshire schools had to shut down. Londonderry's SAU 12, like SAU 19, has had to push back the start of their summer vacation by several days. They started their school year earlier, however, and aren't running into the same time constraints.

If the plan to increase the length of school days isn't approved, SAU 19 may need to get a waiver for any more cancellations that might occur, a possibility that AccuWeather Expert Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski says is pretty likely.

"Given the cold and stormy weather pattern into early April, there is a better-than-average chance of additional school delays and closings," he said.

Buckley said that the only way they could start future school year's earlier would be to renegotiate Goffstown school contracts.