School Start Date Petition Begins; Legislature Likely To Vote On Issue Next year

Along with Comptroller Peter Franchot, left, signing the petition to start schools after Labor Day in Maryland were State Senator Jim Mathias, hotelier and amusement park owner Charles “Buddy” Jenkins and the Harrison Group’s G. Hale Harrison. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — With summer winding down and school systems across Maryland about to open, the effort to mandate a post-Labor Day start for public school systems across the state gained some momentum on Thursday with the launch of a petition drive on the Boardwalk.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot first broached the idea of mandating a post-Labor Day start for public schools two years ago with a special “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign at Hooper’s Crab House in West Ocean City. Two years later, Franchot was on the Boardwalk near the Inlet on Thursday morning to launch a petition drive seeking at least 10,000 signatures to present to the General Assembly during its 2014 session.

Two years ago, State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) was able to successfully get a bill passed creating a task force to study the post-Labor Day school start issue. The 15-member panel voted 11-4 this year to forward a favorable recommendation to the General Assembly to pass legislation mandating the change. As it stands now, each school district has the autonomy to set their school schedules with the majority returning in late August. Worcester County this year decided to push its start date back beyond Labor Day.

The task force’s favorable recommendation came too late to get legislation introduced and voted on during the 2014 session, setting the stage for what will likely be a pertinent issue in 2015. In advance of the session, however, Franchot, along with Mathias and several task force members launched a petition drive on the Boardwalk in Ocean City on Thursday against the backdrop of a picture-perfect mid-August morning in the resort.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he spoke at the opening of the Maryland Association of Counties convention earlier on Thursday and asked for a show of hands from those in attendance how many started school before Labor Day and there were only a few in the crowd of several hundred. Meehan said the push for the post-Labor Day school start across the state was obviously good for the resort, but also for all Marylanders.

“It certainly is in the best interest of Ocean City and all of Maryland,” he said. “With the comptroller’s petition, the effort starts today. This is where it starts and we’ll take it to the General Assembly. This is something we need to accomplish.”

Franchot pointed to an economic study of the issue, which revealed a direct economic impact of $75 million, along with $7.7 million in tax revenue and $4 million in employee earnings associated with the later school start.

“Ocean City is such an important part of our economic future and it’s not just the tax collected, but the jobs created,” he said. “More importantly, it’s about summer and families. Families save a little each paycheck to spend a week in Ocean City.”

Franchot pointed out his sister is a teacher in Pennsylvania and the summer has pinched shorter each year there. He said last year many Pennsylvania schools went back on July 31 and this year was July 28. He hopes the petition drive will keep that from happening in Maryland.

“When you look at this weather today, this is the kind of day Maryland families have enjoyed in this town for generations,” he said. “Unfortunately, these days keep getting cut shorter and shorter. Every year, the school year starts creeping closer and closer to July. If we don’t draw a line in the sand now, Maryland will be there.”

While the petition drive was launched in Ocean City, which likely stands to gain the most from the change, Franchot said the benefits would be reaped across the state.

“We’re here in Ocean City, but this is an issue for all of Maryland,” he said. “Out in Western Maryland, Deep Creek Lake is facing the same problem. And how about them O’s? How exciting is it going to be as they continue to push for the pennant, but who is going to be able to take their kids to a game during the week in late August when the next day is a school day?”

Franchot said the 10,000 signature petition drive would be delivered to state lawmakers still skeptical about the change.

“We’re going to take 10,000 reasons for doing this to the General Assembly,” he said. “This is traditional. It’s common sense and it doesn’t cost a penny. All it does is generate revenue for a struggling economy and guarantee families will get to enjoy those last few weeks of summer.”

Mathias said he was ready to continue the momentum to affect the change.

“We are absolutely ready to let summer be summer,” he said. “You gave me a job to do and I’m ready to take 10,000 signatures to the General Assembly. This is going to take bringing people to the table and I’m ready to deliver.”

Ocean City businessman and hotelier G. Hale Harrison, who served on the task force, voiced concerns over the summer season getting cut shorter ever year.

“Our livelihoods here depend on summer,” he said. “We’re worried about that getting whittled away. We can’t have what we have here without summer and we need to protect summer vacation from slipping away.”

 

OC Police Calls Up Slightly In July; Crime Data Flat From 2013

OCEAN CITY – Due to the monthly Police Commission meeting being canceled, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro came before the Mayor and City Council on Monday to present the month of July’s crime statistics and Taser report. Buzzuro reported July’s total calls for service, including traffic stops, business checks and assistance to citizens, totaled 15,405, which is a 1.8-percent … Continue reading

County, Berlin Working To Limit Fire Siren Hours; BFC Proposes No Whistle After 10 P.M.

BERLIN — Out of respect to residents and guests, the Berlin Fire Company (BFC), with the unanimous support of the Mayor and Council, would like to limit the hours that the fire siren in town would sound to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The company is also still evaluating the location of its physical fire whistles downtown and could … Continue reading

Island Horses Get Sick After Raiding Camps

ASSATEAGUE — At least two wild horses on Assateague became ill after raiding campsites and eating human food, further illustrating the importance of limiting interaction between humans and the wild animals on the barrier island. Ironically, just a week after Assateague officials posted a picture on their Facebook page about a wild horse named Chama Wingapo raiding a tent for … Continue reading

Ocean City Snared In D.C. Mayor, Harris Squabble

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City this week found itself snared in the middle of a simmering feud between the mayor of Washington, D.C. and Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) that included a call for a boycott of the resort. Harris, whose district includes Ocean City, Worcester County and the entire Eastern Shore, last week was able to get an amendment attached … Continue reading

License Board Institutes New Policy For Underage Sales

SNOW HILL — Even with a high number of violations logged this spring, fines for Worcester County bars, stores and restaurants that sold alcohol to minors were relatively light at this month’s Board of License Commissioners (BLC) meeting. The board has also adopted a new policy for infrequent offenders that will discipline them with a letter of reprimand instead of … Continue reading

Boat Ramp Ordinance Approved Despite Property Owner Complaints

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City officials this week moved forward with the next step in a potential condemnation process for a parcel of bayfront land needed to accommodate a new public boat ramp, but not before one last impassioned plea from the property owner to allow negotiations to continue. In 2012, the Mayor and Council approved the development of a … Continue reading

OC Police Investigating Weekend Attack On Municipal Bus Driver

OCEAN CITY — Resort detectives are currently investigating an attack by multiple individuals on an Ocean City bus driver early Saturday morning. Although the probe is ongoing, Lindsay O’Neal of the Ocean City Police Department’s Public Affairs Office confirmed Monday that on Saturday, June 14 at about 1 a.m. multiple suspects got into a verbal altercation of some sort with … Continue reading

Burglary Suspect Apprehended After Two Major Search Efforts

OCEAN PINES — A few more details emerged this week on the capture of a Berlin man sought for four days in connection with a string of burglaries in the area. Orion Christopher Conway, 24, of Berlin, was captured on Tuesday afternoon following a massive search effort in and around Ocean Pines. The initial search for Conway began late Friday … Continue reading

Ocean City Brewery’s Requests Clear Planning Hurdle

OCEAN CITY – The question of when the new Ocean City Brewing Company remains unclear, but support from the Planning and Zoning Commission to add a grain silo and bottling and canning to the business brings it one step closer. On Tuesday evening, a public hearing was held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider amending Ocean City Brewing … Continue reading