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Slick roads heat up school closings debate

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District’s ‘Plan B’ bus route would affect 250-300 students

By Meaghan Downs

This winter isn’t the worst one Anderson County’s ever seen, according to meteorological records, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been difficult to clear the roads of ice and snow to get residents to work and school.  
Billy Powell Catlett, who’s been the road department supervisor in Anderson County for the past three years, said he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the extra 200 tons of salt that arrived last Friday will be enough to see the county through the rest of the season.
Catlett said the department has probably used about 300 tons of salt, including leftover salt from last year’s winter, since the first bout of harsh winter weather and snow.
“This is not no more snow than usual, it’s just colder temperatures than usual,” Catlett, who’s worked at the road department for the last 25 years, said in a phone interview last Thursday. “When you get those two combined, it’s pretty rough.”
Anderson County public school students found themselves off from school again this past Monday as the district cited slick roads and inclement weather as two reasons for closing school.
As of Monday, Anderson County schools had a collective 15 snow days or three full school-weeks off because of winter weather for 2013-2014.
Fifteen days are the most school closings Director of Student Services Derek Shouse said he’s seen in the five years he’s been director of student services, even more than when Anderson County was hit with a crippling ice storm in 2009.
Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said central office and district transportation staff had been working on an alternative “Plan B” to address the unusual number of school days canceled by the district this winter.  
“Plan B,” which Mitchell said is being developed in partnership with the county and County Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway, involves looking at each bus route to seek which county roads tend to become the iciest, and then ask parents for help to transport students to alternative drop-off points.
The district receives its data through the 4-5 staff members who spend several hours on snow days checking road conditions, Mitchell said, and then report back to the district central office.
Although a final list of slickest county roads and bus routes had not been determined as of Monday afternoon, Mitchell said the “Plan B” transportation system would affect roughly 250-300 Anderson County students.
After schools closed for another five days last week, parents and county residents took to social media to both defend and deride the road department and county government for slippery road conditions in the more rural parts of Anderson County.
County Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway said the county road department was doing all it could during the recent winter weather to clear roads and keep workers safe.
He said Superintendent Sheila Mitchell contacted him before last Friday’s school closing to discuss alternative transportation arrangements, such as allowing students who live in the most affected parts of the county to meet school buses at different locations.
Conway said he discussed the option with County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis, but said his hands were tied when it came to clearing roads on private property.
“I have no apologies for what’s happened this winter,” Conway said. “We’re doing the best we can do.”
Employees with the road department are limited to 72 hours a week and 12-hour days, Conway said.
With six trucks — two for the 6th District and one for every other Anderson district — available to be used for snow removal, seven road department workers are out as much as they can, Catlett and Conway said.
 “They can’t work over X amount of hours, and I don’t want them accidentally hitting someone, injuring themselves or someone else,” Conway said in a phone interview.
One worker has been hauling cinders from Bardstown, which the county receives for free, about three times a week, Conway said.  
The road department won’t run out of cinders (salt is typically used in subdivisions and cinders on county roads) any time soon, Catlett said.
The department usually has four or five times the amount of cinders to salt, Catlett said, and cinders do help chip away at the ice with the help of increased vehicle traffic.   
“Traffic helps break up the ice and cinders help eat into the ice and melt quicker,” Catlett explained.
Conway said the Anderson County Fiscal Court has approved the purchase of two new trucks in the last three years, and said he will introduce money into the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget for another truck.  
Conway said he does not believe the additional purchase of salt, at the usual rate of about $64 per ton for a total $12,800 for 200 tons, will negatively affect the overall road budget for this fiscal year.
He can’t predict the weather, Conway said, and the county has done everything it can to move snow and ice.
“If anybody else thinks they can do a better job, they have the option to choose that person in May and again in November,” Conway said.
 

Changes
to school calendar
According to Director of Student Services Derek Shouse, only the state legislature could allow Anderson County school district to makeup numerous school closings by extending individual school days.
Shouse said via email that the minimum number of days a school may be in session without having an approved alternative calendar is 170 days or 1,062 instructional hours.
With Anderson’s calendar set at exactly 170 days, there’s no wiggle room to lengthen the school day without missing the benchmark for the minimum number of days students are required to be in school, according to Shouse.  
As of Monday’s school closing, the last day of school for Anderson County students is tentatively scheduled for Monday, June 9, Shouse said.
Although the school board recently approved using President’s Day, Feb. 17, as a makeup day, there’s been no official decision on shortening spring break, March 30 through April 3, to make up for closings.
Shouse said the school board would be calling a special-called meeting to discuss using spring break and Memorial Day as possible makeup days.
Mitchell said the district is asking for parent and student input on what the board should choose for makeup days by offering a brief survey on the district website at http://www.anderson.k12.ky.us. The survey will be available to take until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

City gives out tickets for street parking
Stacey Wright of 422 Secretariat said she knows her complaint about her $5 parking ticket is one of principle, not because of the cost of the ticket.
After receiving a ticket at 2:45 a.m. for parking in the street last week, Wright said, she wished she had gotten earlier notification from city hall about the fact that the city would be enforcing its ordinance banning long-term parking in the street and on the sidewalk.
Wright said the harsh winter weather forced her to park her vehicle in the street because otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to get out of her driveway safely.  
‘When it’s slick, I have no choice because I can’t get up the driveway to work,’ she said.  
Wright, who moved to Kentucky from Florida a few years ago, said she never received notification from the city or a warning ticket prior to getting the parking ticket last week, and wasn’t aware of the city’s ordinance to begin with.
City police chief Chris Atkins said officers have been issuing warning tickets for more than a month to let people know about the ordinance, although Atkins said he did not know the exact number of how many warning tickets had been issued because no copies are made of warning tickets.
Mayor Edwinna Baker said she’s not received any complaints from residents regarding parking tickets being issued in the city other than a phone call from Wright.
A One Call notification, Baker said, was sent by 911 dispatch to warn city residents about the ordinance banning long-term parking on city streets or sidewalks.
The city ordinance prohibiting long term parking, she said, was enacted to allow emergency vehicles necessary space to get through city streets.
But after speaking with 911 dispatch supervisor Todd Sparrow, Baker said, she found out only 60 percent of people in the city received the phone notification due to fewer and fewer residents signing up for the service through cell phone numbers.
Residents can sign up to be notified during natural disasters, water line breaks, inclement weather or other important city matters, Baker said, by calling the police department at 839-5126.