School slipped on the ice, needs to fix policy allowing for late starts

The Ely School District seemed to take a giant step forward last year when it joined nearly every other district in the region and gave school officials the option to start school two hours late - rather than scrapping the day entirely - when bad weather hits.
But the icy road conditions of Jan. 23 have nothing on the slipping and sliding by school officials in the aftermath of a highly-scrutinized decision to cancel school that day.
It was clear in the hours after the decision and again Monday night - when board members discussed the issue - that a seemingly simple and welcome new option is bogged down in bureaucracy and a head-scratching, advance notice policy never approved by the school board.
It’s also obvious that the district needs to make the necessary steps to allow for late starts when circumstances warrant,.
We have no doubt that road conditions in the Ely area were poor in the early-morning hours of Jan. 22 and that school officials used sound judgement in deciding it was unwise to start the school day on time.
But if any day seemed ideal for the new late-start option, it was that day, when temperatures climbed to nearly 40 degrees, and those traversing 169 and 21 found road conditions to be much improved as the morning progressed.
The late start was never an option, at least that day, because school officials said they didn’t make the call by 8 p.m. the night before.
Discussed but never approved, the advance notice was to be done only “if possible,” according to board chairman Ray Marsnik, and was touted initially as a way to help parents deal with child-care options.
It turns out, however, that the underlying reason for the 8 p.m. call is to allow the district’s bus drivers to make necessary arrangements.
Board members were told that if Ely followed the lead of other districts and approved a late start in the morning, it runs the risk of not having enough drivers to cover the various routes.
That’s a tail wagging the dog approach that board members shouldn’t stand for, not for a minute.
Board members set policy for the district and staff members administer those policies.
If the district doesn’t have enough bus drivers to accommodate late starts, it’s the job of staff to take the necessary steps - whether it’s hiring new drivers who can accommodate the late-start schedule or arranging for more substitutes - to make sure the new policy can be implemented.
We joined school officials last year in welcoming the late start option. It sure beats the all-or-nothing approach when snowstorms hit, roads are icy, or morning temps are unbearably cold.
But if it takes so much advance notice that it can’t be used when it’s clearly the best option - what good is it?
The two-hour late start makes sense, is used by numerous other districts, and there’s no reason it can’t happen here. Ely school officials need to sort through the staffing issues and make sure it’s always an option, even if the decision has to be made at 6 a.m.