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If you want a snow day, befriend this guy

North Kitsap School District Transportation Director Ron Lee uses his Ford Escape to check roads in the morning so he can determine if they are safe for the school district’s busses to travel. - Tara Lemm/Staff photo
North Kitsap School District Transportation Director Ron Lee uses his Ford Escape to check roads in the morning so he can determine if they are safe for the school district’s busses to travel.
— image credit: Tara Lemm/Staff photo

NKSD’s Ron Lee speaks out on what makes a good snow day.

NORTH END – When the snow falls or the weather’s threateningly angry, his day starts at 1 a.m., while the rest of the North Kitsap School District’s staff and students slumber in oblivion.

He quickly checks the forecast before hitting the road at 1:30 a.m., sans a cup of coffee or warm beverage to keep him company.

“I just get up and leave,” said Ron Lee NKSD’s director of transportation.

Lee’s the man who makes the call if school should start late or be canceled during inclement weather. As a result all last week he was out and about hours before dawn or any reasonable alarm clock clattered.

This time of year is disastrous on his sleep patterns; if it’s a two hour delay Lee’s at work until 3:30 p.m. despite punching the clock at 1:30 a.m., if school’s closed he can go home about 10 a.m., still having worked an eight-and-a-half-hour day.

But it’s all part of the job for Lee who thoroughly enjoys his post ensuring students arrive safely at school to receive an education.

And the self-described “weather buff,” is just the right man for the task, as he’s been studying the weather for years and holds his pilot’s license.

“If I changed careers right now, teaching meteorology is what I’d pick to do,” he said.

Lee’s decision recommendation process includes analyzing a plethora of variables: what are all the different decisions to be reached, what are all the possible outcomes of the various decisions, the safety of the district’s approximate 7,000 staff and students, will the maintenance department be able to get to school and clear the sidewalks and parking lots, will there be enough heat in the buildings, and just what exactly is the weather going to do.

He weighs all the variables against the backdrop of what the road conditions might be along the approximate 5,600 miles driven by a total of 70 NKSD buses and drivers each and every school day. Lee’s responsible for managing some 1,500 stops along 143 bus routes, which 68 percent of NKSD students depend on to get to school.

It’s a “gut wrenching,” procedure, but Lee, who’s headed NKSD’s transportation department for 21 years, has his methodology perfected to a science.

“I find a straight stretch of road and go about 30 miles per hour and slam on the brakes, if I go around once it’s a one hour delay, twice it’s two hour delay and if I go in the ditch there’s no school,” he said, laughing at the joke. “But I really do the brake test just to see what will happen. I stop on hills and see if I can get started again.”

Lee definitely approaches his job with a little humor, but in all seriousness he has a fool proof routine for deciding the status of the school day.

He hops into his white Ford Escape, pulls out of his home in Jefferson County, and heads south on Hwy 3. He stays on the main roads and monitors the temperature, looking for ice and watching for drizzle. After he’s covered the South End he returns to Poulsbo and heads on Hwy. 305 to the casino, cuts over to Indianola on Miller Bay Road, and then cruises out to Hansville.

He likes to take the district’s Dodge Ram Charger pickup, as it has a light back end and will slide faster than the Escape so he can get a better feel for the road conditions.

Regardless the vehicle, before the reasonable waking hour of 5 a.m., Lee’s already driven around the North End for three to four hours.

“I try to be back in my office and making a call to the superintendent by 4:30-4:45 a.m.,” Lee said. He discusses his observation with Superintendent Rick Jones, and then a school-closure decision is reached. “It’s really kind of a gut wrenching thing to do because it changes so quickly. You’ll be going down the road and there’s four inches of snow and it’s a slam dunk and then a few miles later it’s just wet and then it’s not a slam dunk. The whole peninsula has micro climates so it’s really difficult to determine. We’re between two sets of mountains and the water and that makes it difficult to predict.”

Once a decision is made he sits back and hopes like “heck” he made the right one. In the last 21 years he’s confident all his weather related transportation decisions were correct based upon the information he had at the time.

“I can say for a fact in 21 years never once has a child been injured in relation to a weather-related call,” Lee said, a little pride in his voice. “It all comes down to student and staff safety.”

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