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Closing schools for weather not an exact science

Bill McEnerney, the Central Kitsap School District transportation director, makes the round of calls early Tuesday morning after the decision was made to close schools because of snow. - Photo by Paul Balcerak
Bill McEnerney, the Central Kitsap School District transportation director, makes the round of calls early Tuesday morning after the decision was made to close schools because of snow.
— image credit: Photo by Paul Balcerak

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

At 3:30 on Tuesday morning, most of Silverdale was sleeping while the area was silently being covered by a thick white blanket of snow.

Not Bill McEnerney. The Central Kitsap School District transportation director had just gotten to work.

When CKSD’s weather forecasts hint at snow and ice, it’s McEnerney’s job to get up early and drive Central Kitsap’s sometimes treacherous local roads to help determine if school is a go, or if it should be delayed or cancelled.

It’s not always an easy decision.

“When you cancel school, that’s a very big thing,” he said. “It’s not just the kids; it affects the parents’ schedules too.”

He and CKSD Transportation Supervisor Laura Nowland, who also was along for Tuesday’s ride, didn’t have much trouble making a decision — snowfall was as deep as 3 to 4 inches in some places.

CKSD is anything but geographically uniform, and heavy snow and ice in one place don’t necessarily imply the same on the other side of the district.

It falls on people like McEnerney, Nowland and Director of Operations Dirk Gleysteen to make a call on the weather and make a recommendation to Superintendent Greg Lynch.

“The most important thing is to make the best decision for the safety of everyone involved,” CKSD Spokeswoman Melanie Reeder said.

The process starts with McEnerney’s early morning drives, and he’s usually required to get a little adventurous.

“Feel that? Feel that?” he asked as he hit his accelerator and spun his tires on Anderson Hill Road Tuesday morning. “We’re not going on side roads, so whatever we see on the main roads is two to three times (worse) on the side roads.”

It may seem reckless, but it’s actually McEnerney being cautious. Last year, as a “rookie” transportation director, McEnerney balked on recommending cancellations on a day when he thought weather conditions would improve. They didn’t, and McEnerney learned the hard way that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“This is not easy driving, but better we get out here first than busses with kids,” he said.

As he traverses the roadways of the district’s “problem areas,” located to the west near Seabeck, he’ll periodically spin his wheels, jam his breaks on and try to get a general feel for road conditions.

“What I also consider ... are kids sitting around at the (bus) stops,” he said, meaning that he doesn’t just assess the risk of car-on-car accidents.

He also gets calls from the district’s transportation dispatch center, Gleysteen and Bob Wilson of Kitsap County’s Central Road Shop, updating him on road conditions.

“They know where the bus routes are and they really concentrate on them,” Reeder said of county road workers.

Other district employees occasionally call McEnerney with road updates, too.

Once the call to delay or cancel has been made, a calling tree is started from district headquarters to notify media outlets and staffers.

That call to cancel or delay school can be met with confusion and frustration by district parents, often times. When part of the district is hampered by bad weather, that usually means the whole district is shut down.

The district could conceivably shut down one or two schools and keep the rest open, Gleysteen said, but it’s rare that only one or two are affected by weather.

“If we shut down half of the schools, we don’t have a workable mechanism to make up that day,” he added.

The best way for parents to stay apprised of what’s going on is to know where to get school closure information, Reeder said.

Parents can visit the district’s Web site to check for closures or e-mail alerts about delays and closures at enews.cksd.wednet.edu. A PDF version of the school’s Emergency Operating Procedures also can be downloaded on the district home page.

Parents also can obtain delay and closure information from www.schoolreport.org by clicking on “School Districts” on the left side and choosing Central Kitsap SD on the next page.

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