BYFIELD — It's a tough decision to make, and two local school superintendents know the pain of calling a snow day.
Bryan Forget, superintendent of the Triton Regional School District, and his Amesbury Public Schools counterpart, Jared Fulgoni, both decided to cancel school on Tuesday after having a two-hour delay the day before.
Forget said each school year calendar has five snow days built in. Once a district has gone past the allotted days off, it must make them up.
"We have to get in 180 days before June 30," he said. "If we are headed past that, we have to make up a schedule to do it."
Triton has already used two snow days after a power outage in Salisbury and on Plum Island caused the first cancellation this fall.
Forget said making the call on a snow day is the culmination of a laborious process that includes monitoring weather forecasts through a private service and texting area superintendents.
"When the governor declares a state of emergency, that's easy, you get a free pass on that. Other than that, it’s different,” Forget said. “This past snowstorm, we saw Boston getting 4 or 5 inches, while I had 13 inches at my house."
While the superintendents text among themselves, they also check with their local public works departments and facilities managers. Forget said he is no exception.
"Chris Walsh is our facilities director and he has connections with each of the three DPWs in the district," Forget said. "He can connect with each of them and get a sense of what is going on. We also have surveillance cameras on all of our campuses now so I can take a look and see whether it is clear or not. But depending on the day, it is talking to the towns and getting a sense of what the roads look like."
Fulgoni said he also takes the temperature of his city's Public Works and Police departments before making a snow day call.
Public Works Director Rob Desmarais "can tell you what the roads are like but the police can tell you if there are any accidents," Fulgoni said.
"You might also want to check with the state police to see what the conditions of I-95 and I-495 are because I want to make sure that my employees will be able to get to school as well."
Fulgoni said his greatest snow day concern is for low-income families.
"A lot of these people aren't getting paid if they take the day off, so they have to make that decision whether they are going to give up a day's pay or not and have to figure out where to drop their kid or even leave them home alone," Fulgoni said. “A lot of times, those are the children that rely most on our (free or reduced-price) lunch and breakfast programs.
"When I cancel school, I am always thinking about those families because I know there are families that are going to feel a real impact if I cancel school. Those are our most vulnerable families," he said.
No matter the situation, the decision always rests with the school superintendent.
"The best is when you can call it the night before," Forget said. "But if I make the call the night before and 2,500 families wake up the next day and there is only an inch on the ground, I would much rather not have those conversations."
Making the call in the morning is the hardest for Forget.
"I usually try to go to bed but I can't. I'm usually up at 2 in the morning, looking at the phone and out the window,” he said. "Usually by 3:30, 4 a.m., I just have to call it. I have a TV up in the attic and I can go up there and put on the weather and look at my laptop and call the DPW."
Fulgoni said calling a snow day is always a tough decision.
"It is a decision that you know you will never feel 100% about,” he said. “On the days when I cancel school, I know I am going to hear from parents that are missing a day's pay. Then again, if I don't cancel, there are going to be parents who say, 'I can't believe you didn't cancel!' But you also have to know when you make it, yeah, you're probably going to get a little beat up about it. But I'll go through the same process and make a decision the same way the next time."
No matter what call he makes, Forget said he will always stand by it as well.
“I’m only human,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to take everything into consideration and take the safety of students and balance it with wanting to go until June 30. But I'm going to make a call that I'm going to have to live with."
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.