House panel OKs snow day forgiveness, rejects pay for hourly workers on those days

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Kara McConnell shovels snow outside of Good Harbor Coffee and Bakery on Monday morning in Traverse City. McConnell, a teacher at Eastern Elementary School, volunteered to shovel since she had free time on the snow day. "Just getting a coffee and trying to be helpful," she said.

Lansing — Lawmakers gave preliminary approval Tuesday to legislation that would give some Michigan school districts a pass on making up days for cancellations during record cold temperatures in late January.

The legislation by Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, would loosen laws that require K-12 districts to add days to the school year if school day cancellations eclipse the permitted six days and three waiver-contingent days.

Frederick’s legislation would exclude days from that count that were cancelled during state-declared emergencies from counting as snow days. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency from Jan. 29-31.

The bill likely would exempt a raft of cancellations in late January, when a deep freeze shut down many schools and businesses.

Frederick said some schools in his mid-Michigan district have cancelled more than a dozen days already and “other parts of the state even higher.”

“When the state is shut down in effect and schools are in a position where they, as part of safety, are closing, that shouldn’t count against their snow day bank of days,” he said

The House Education Committee approved the bill Tuesday in a 9-6 vote, moving the legislation next to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Schools need clarity sooner rather than later to plan for June, Frederick said. He said he hoped the bill would proceed through the legislative process quickly so schools get some guidance by early April.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, proposed similar legislation, but the bill has yet to receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Frederick’s bill also would give schools a reprieve from funding sanctions for low student attendance on rescheduled days. Current law triggers monetary fines if attendance falls below 75 percent, but the bill would lower that trigger point to below 60 percent to accommodate lower attendance on the rescheduled days.

The committee failed to adopt two amendments that would extend pay to hourly school workers who also had those days off.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the provisions for hourly workers would protect employees who often live “paycheck to paycheck.”

“Our employees would rather frankly work more days than fewer days because they only get paid when they work,” said Tim Greimel, a former lawmaker and AFSCME legislative director.

Some districts are remunerating employees voluntarily, Frederick said, and lawmakers “felt that it may be better handled locally through those negotiations and conversations already occurring.”

The state requires a minimum of 1,098 hours of instruction over 180 days, but lawmakers are looking at other exceptions to the rule besides those recommended by Greimel.

Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, introduced legislation at the end of February that would permit school districts to meet the 1,098-hour requirement and not the day requirement. The legislation would allow school districts to add hours to the school day to make up for lost time without cutting into summer break.

In 2013, then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that let schools with too many snow days avoid having to schedule extra days that June. They were allowed to schedule longer days instead. Supporters said at the time that extra days could have been a problem for families that had scheduled vacations and camps for kids.

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