LEWISTON — There were moments when Bill Webster wished for snow.

About three hours after his pre-dawn decision to call off school Wednesday, the sky looked too empty.

“It started out at 7 a.m. or so, snowing. The roads had a light cover on them. And then it stopped,” said Webster, Lewiston’s superintendent of schools and the snow-day decider. “I’m looking outside and saying, ‘C’mon. Snow!'”

If only he’d known. At 3 p.m., only one or two inches were stuck to the ground.

“Had I had perfect knowledge, I would have had school,” he said. “You make the decision the best you can and go on.”

It’s been a rough winter for the deciders.

“It’s probably the least favorite aspect of my job,” Webster said.

On Dec. 10, most local school systems shut down, mostly due to ice-covered roads.

People complained.

School closed again on Feb. 8. Though it was sunny when children would have been on their way to classes that day, their way home would have been interrupted by the start of a blizzard, which would eventually drop about 30 inches of powder on the area.

People complained.

And then there was Wednesday.

At 4:30 a.m., a meteorologist called Webster. He told the superintendent that as much as 6 inches of snow would be on the ground when kids left school for home.

He called it. So did most of his counterparts, including Michael Wilhelm, RSU 16’s interim superintendent, and Richard Colpitts, the superintendent of the Oxford Hills School District.

“In this case, we canceled school even before it started snowing,” said Colpitts, who figures he wakes three hours earlier on poor weather days.

At 3 a.m., he received a call from a meteorologist at Precision Weather. For storm days, the company creates detailed forecasts for each of the Oxford Hills School District’s eight towns. Its fee is about $300 per year, Colpitts said.

The superintendent contacted the district’s transportation director, who called road crews in all eight towns to learn about road conditions. By 4:30, the transportation director called back with the necessary info, and Colpitts made his decision.

“I need to make my decision by 5 a.m.,” he said. Buses need to run. Teachers begin their commutes. Families need to prepare for child care.

“The decision is never easy,” Colpitts said. “You get flak if you don’t hold school. You get flak if you do.”

This season has been worse because the choices have been more about anticipating weather than reacting to it, Webster said.

“The neat-and-tidy snowstorms start at 9 a.m. the day before. They’re going to go ’til 5 o’clock the following day, and there’s already 5 inches on the ground.”

There have been none of those this winter.

Wilhelm, who spent 20 years as the SAD 75 superintendent in Topsham and now serves RSU 16 in Poland, agreed with Webster that it’s the least likable part of the job.

“There’s a lot riding on it,” he said. “Because you’re the one making the decision. If there’s a big change (in the weather), and it looks like you made the wrong decision, you take the heat.”

Unlike either Webster or Colpitts, he gets his forecasts from the Internet and TV.

“The forecasts were close, but not that close,” Wilhelm said. “We’ve had these changing scenarios all winter long. We’re having to make these decisions a lot.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.