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Task force urges post-Labor Day school openings

(May 23, 2014) A Maryland task force has followed in the footsteps of Worcester County Public Schools, recommending that the state’s schools delay the start of their calendars until after Labor Day.

The group of parents, teachers, businessmen, senators, delegates and other stakeholders, largely appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and charged with studying a post-Labor Day start to the school year, voted 11-4 to start school after the holiday.

Worcester County is the first of the state’s 24 school districts to break from the recent pre-Labor Day school opening schedule,  although any school system has that option.

“Worcester County is leading the rest of the state in helping move the start of school after Labor Day,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a stanch advocate of the move, during a recent visit to this county’s Board of Education.

Sen. Jim Mathias, who represents Worcester County, called the vote a “common sense reform that will bring a substantial stream of additional revenue to the small business owners on the shore.”

The debate over the start of the school year has been strong in this county, where the resort is driven by a seasonal tourism economy. Proponents argue that starting school before Labor Day hurts local businesses, which rely on workers still in high school or employed by the schools and by cutting the vacation season short.

“The economic argument is there,” said Greg Shockley, one of the members of the task force and chairman of the Maryland Tourism Development Board. “We’re loosing a part of the revenue at peak season.”

Shockley said the group examined the start of school across Maryland and noticed the school year creeping forward as early as Aug. 18.

Ocean City’s Mayor Rick Meehan has gone so far as to call going back to school before Labor Day “un-American” and voiced his concerns about shortchanging the summer season during an Economic Development Committee meeting earlier this year.

“Fifty-eight percent of your (school) budget is derived from Ocean City… and you fight for that budget every year,” Meehan said. “The more revenue we produce, the more successful we are (and) the more money will be available.”

According to the state’s Bureau of Revenue, the change will have an estimated $74.3 million economic impact, Mathias said.

Labor Day, which falls on the first Monday of September, will be on Sept. 1 this year.

“If we were to make a move, this year is the year,” said Bob Rothermel, Worcester’s Board of Education president.

However, the holiday can be as late as Sept. 7 and that could cut into teaching hours before high-stakes tests in October, Rothermel said.

Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, voiced other concerns about bumping the school calendar back, including planning for inclement weather days.

The MSEA is not against allowing schools to start after Labor Day, but opposes the mandate for such a calendar, Mendelson said. “Any school system that feels that’s the right choice for them is able to do that. That process works, it’s locally driven, and it creates a situation where each school system is able to choose a start date.”

“I don’t think you need state legislation to do it,” Rothermel agreed.

Superintendent of Worcester County’s schools Dr. Jerry Wilson commended the task force for gathering input, noting his view “that school starts should remain a local control issue, with decisions remaining with boards of education.”

“Having the decision-making process take place at the local level — by elected board of education members — is in compliance with state regulations and supports the belief that local boards of education know what is best for their school systems and communities,” Wilson said.

Clara Vaughn, Ocean City Todayhttps://www.oceancity.com/OceanCityToday
Clara discovered journalism as a freelance reporter for her hometown newspaper, the Eastern Shore News, in 2008. She spent her summers reporting from the courtroom to the marsh as a general assignment reporter for the News while finishing her undergraduate degree at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. In 2011, she earned a Virginia Press Association Award for her health, science and environment writing package. After a stint in press relations, Clara returned to school, earning a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2012. She traveled overseas and landed as a reporter and copy editor at Ocean City Today in May of 2013.

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