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Lynch discusses sidewalks, snow

February 4, 2011

In an exclusive, extensive interview with 180 yesterday, School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch said the seemingly slow pace of clearing the town’s 70 miles of sidewalks after snow storms this year is frustrating, but he and fellow school administrators carefully monitor sidewalk conditions and take all parent complaints seriously. He said numerous complaints have been received regarding sidewalks outside the town’s elementary schools this year.

In an email sent out to parents last Friday that he also provided to 180, Lynch wrote that “town sidewalks continued to be a shared concern,” but said that the amount of snow fall this year, combined with a lack of melting has caused many of the town’s sidewalks to essentially turn into large blocks of ice. “As a result, sidewalk equipment operators are not only clearing snow, but trying to remove ice blocks, too,” he wrote. Ice chunks are also causing damage to equipment, Lynch said.

Lynch noted in the interview yesterday that the DPW’s resources are being stretched to the limit with the number of storms that have already hit this year. “The School Department does not own plows,” he said, and urged parents to be aware that the DPW is working feverishly to clear all public sidewalks and roads. “They have really done a great job,” Lynch said of the DPW workers.

Complaints from parents regarding sidewalk conditions are compiled, and organized by street, according to Lynch, and then forwarded to the DPW for action. But he noted in his email last Friday, “parents should be cautioned not to expect 100% of the sidewalks to be clear.” After all, Lynch said, schools must still be in session even if the sidewalks are not in good condition. “If I waited for every sidewalk to be clear, we’d never have school,” he said yesterday. In the end, parents have the option to keep their children home from school if they feel the sidewalks or roads are not safe, and the absence is automatically excused.

In other snow-related news, Lynch said that while other school districts have suggested that the high number of snow days this year may result in school days being made up during previously-scheduled vacation weeks, he does not foresee students having to make up snow days by going to school during their February or April vacation or during any other holidays or weekends. He said, however, that the high number of snow days so early in the year – four separate snow days four weeks in a row – is cause for some concern. “Four [snow days] is unusual, and we may not be done yet,” he said.

He said the last time he can remember working in a school district where there were as many as four snow days was in 1994, when he was an Assistant Superintendent in Auburn, MA. But Lynch said that the abnormal number of snow days that have already occurred this year are not necessarily problematic. Because the school year began before Labor Day, there is ample space in late June for additional school days. “We designed the calendar so we would have a lot of flexibility at the end of the school year, and now it’s paying off,” he said.

Lynch said that he hopes there are no more snow days this year, because continuing school in the summer can be hard. “I hope there isn’t a lot of heat in June, because the schools aren’t air-conditioned,” he said. The originally-scheduled last day of school was Tuesday, June 14, but with four snow days, the date has now been pushed to Monday, June 20, still considerably early in June relative to previous school years and to other districts.

Lynch demonstrated for 180 the web-based weather program called “Snow & Ice” that he uses, run by a veteran meteorologist, that synthesizes different weather forecasts and provides a generally accurate forecast of local weather conditions for the Walpole area. He usually bases his decisions of whether or not to cancel school on the program’s forecasts. Lynch said he believes the program is more accurate than many television meteorologists, although he does occasionally consult television weather forecasts.

With snow again predicted for Tuesday, it is possible that students will have yet another snow day, the fifth in one year, and the fifth in five weeks. Lynch said he is continually checking “Snow & Ice” for updates regarding that and other future snow storms.

Sidewalk plows were observed clearing the sidewalk outside the high school yesterday, after this week’s snowstorm. The plows did an excellent job (if only they had come out and done the same thing for the first snow storm we had this year.)

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