Response: Snow Days

Earlier today, I posted about the relationship between municipal snow removal policy and school snow days. My friend Ed Gerrish, a public policy Ph.D. student at Indiana University, sent the reply below.  Posted with his approval:

"I think you answered your own question in the post. The benefits of keeping schools open are hard to quantify.  It's like the line from the "The Office" when Michael Scott was asked why the employees were more productive after Movie Monday.  The answer?  Because they had to be.  Snow cancellation days, if sufficiently rare, probably don't hurt either school or work productivity significantly because most people (except you overachievers) build in some slack. However, poor driving conditions (even if snow is removed) can kill people quite easily.

The real problem is ongoing snowfall.  Let's say you can double plow expenditures and every road is cleared once per hour. Snow in that hour can cause slippery conditions, particularly on metro overpasses.  Thus benefits are likely marginal and the costs are higher both in expenditure terms and to society. NPV<0.

I actually think that most places have the right amount of snow removal equipment.  We can all basically cope with one to five days of snow cancellations per academic year -- we have about that much slack built into our lives.  More than five and you cut into real productivity.  Less than that, and you are probably over-paying for both equipment and personnel relative to the gains to society."