Cold snap shuts down busing for Malta schools

2011-02-02T00:00:00Z 2011-02-02T00:13:58Z Cold snap shuts down busing for Malta schools

By ROB ROGERS

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
February 02, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Malta Public Schools has a standing policy that when the thermometer drops to 30 below, the buses stay in the bus barn.

That was the case on Tuesday. The buses stayed in, but classes went on. Parents were responsible for getting their kids to school.

“We've not canceled school,” said Kris Kuehn, superintendent of Malta Public Schools.

Heading into Tuesday, temperatures in Malta were forecast to hit 40 below. It was at that point Kuehn made the decision not to run buses.

And then, sometime between and 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Tuesday, the temperature bottomed out at 38 below, according to the National Weather Service.

Malta has had buses that haven't run their routes this winter. Most are independent contractors and make the decision on their own, Kuehn said.

But with the extreme cold Tuesday, the district's policy went into effect, and for the first time this year, all the buses stayed put. Still, classroom attendance was moderately high, Kuehn said.

Parents simply drive their children to school when the buses announce they won't be running, he said.

The districtwide average for attendance for Tuesday was about 75 percent. The district has roughly 515 students enrolled. On a typical day, the percentage is in the upper 90s.

It used to be that schools were required to have a certain percentage of students in the classroom for the school day to count.

“That isn't the case anymore,” said Dennis Parman, state deputy superintendent of schools.

Schools that didn't have enough students in the classroom or that canceled classes for some reason had to make up the lost time during the summer.

Now, rather than figuring lost time in days, the Office of Public Instruction measures it in aggregate hours. Over the course of a school year, schools have to put in 720 hours of instruction time.

Parman said the change gives school officials a little more flexibility in scheduling the school year and deciding whether or not to hold classes when looking at the weather forecast.

Cold weather can be hard on buses. First Student, Inc., which runs busing services for Billings School District 2, made sure all its buses were running Tuesday morning.

Last January, most of SD2's 82 buses wouldn't start or stalled out on routes after brisk, subzero temperatures gelled diesel fuel in the buses.

First Student had not used a strong enough cold-weather additive for the fuel. The company also failed to notify the district of the break downs until 7 a.m., resulting in some students being stranded at bus stops and parents unaware of the problem.

Mindful of last year, officials were watching the forecast Monday and made sure everything was ready to run Tuesday morning. As a result, the buses were out and students were all picked up on time.

“We done good,” said Ron Messman, First Student's contract manager with SD2.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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