OCEAN CITY – A potential advertising campaign to gain support for pending state legislation that would have schools start after Labor Day was postponed this week to avoid any kind of conflict with the political arena.
Last week Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan testified before the Maryland Senate about the benefits associated with schools going back in session after Labor Day and extending the summer season for another week. This week city officials returned to Annapolis to testify over the same legislation in front of the House of Representatives.
The process began almost a year ago when Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot met with Ocean City business leaders to jumpstart his initiative to push the start of the school year back after Labor Day, citing the economic benefit to the state while maintaining the mandated number days in the school calendar. Meanwhile, Greg Shockley, who chairs the state’s Tourism Development Board, approached Sen. Jim Mathias about introducing legislation to at least study the issue and the senator obliged.
Mathias recently introduced a bill to create a task force to study the issue of having schools begin after Labor Day from all sides. The task force would include state and local elected officials, school administrators, teachers, students and parents and business leaders. Mathias said he was keenly aware of the potential impacts on the school calendar, but hoped a compromise solution could be reached.
With the news of the pending legislation, during a Tourism Commission meeting last Friday MGH Advertising President Andy Malis presented a “fun tongue in cheek” campaign that would promote support for students to return to school after the Labor Day weekend and in turn have attention stirred up towards Ocean City.
“To me it should be a criminal act to start school before Labor Day, and I always thought it could be something we could have fun with but I also realize it is a political issue and education is the bottom line,” Malis said.
Malis presented the campaign, which is similar to small quirky campaigns Ocean City has published in the past, such as the Cicada-free and end-of the-world advertisements that tempted readers to escape to this area.
Recognizing the fact the campaign revolves around a current political issue, MGH had a public opinion company take a survey early last week. Out of the respondents with children in Maryland schools, 79 percent responded they were in favor of schools holding off until after Labor Day.
MGH came up with two ads beckoning the children of Maryland to “nag” their parents to sign a petition supporting schools starting after Labor Day.
Sections of the ad read, “The government is stealing your fun. In the State where we live, it is Maryland in case you haven’t gotten to that in Social Studies yet, school systems have been systematically shortening your summer vacation. In some cases school now begins on Aug. 20, more than a full month before the actual end of summer. That’s just wrong.
“What those in power don’t want you to know is it hasn’t always been this way. In fact when your parents were growing up school didn’t start until after Labor Day. That’s right. Your parents and their parents before them spent the final days of August not in a possibly un-air conditioned school room but out in the fresh air of Ocean City, Md.
“We don’t know the long term effects of being denied that extra bit of fun. What we do know is a few more weeks of skeet ball could have finally earned you enough tickets for that lava lamp that you had your eyes on. But that chance has been snatched away from you by well-meaning bureaucrats who have forgotten the value of fun in a child’s life. Think about it a generation will now grow up without the time to fully master the boogie board.
In the meantime, Virginia, among other states, has already adopted an after Labor Day school start. That means kids that live just a short drive away will be getting way more salt water taffy then you this summer.”
A website was proposed to be set up at www.longersummer.com where parents can choose “Yes, I want my kids to enjoy a little more time at the beach just like I did” or “No, I hate fun and I want to pass that onto my children.”
Meehan said, “What we’re asking here is just for a study … it is just saying keep open minded and study it. This will give Ocean City a lot of attention.”
The remainder of the Tourism Commission was in consensus with the campaign moving forward and decided to have Malis present the campaign to the full Mayor and City Council during their legislative session on Monday night.
On Monday night, Malis presented the campaign but the reaction was not as positive as it was at the commission meeting.
“Has there been any thought or conversations over the fact that you are basically using advertising money for political purposes?,” Councilman Brent Ashley asked. “That might not fit too well for some people that are not for this.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres responded it was not his belief the campaign was the kind of satire that would fall into the political arena but he could see someone making that argument.
Council Secretary and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight said the commission was not looking for a final decision from the council that evening. In fact, calls had been made to Maryland tourism officials to receive another opinion on if the campaign would create some sort of conflict.
“Everybody in the room was very excited … they are looking at it as a whole other week at the end of August that would be very big for us…as an economic impact,” Knight said of the Tourism Commission.
Tourism Director Donna Abbott added she personally did not view it as a political ad.
“But it would be important if there is that perception there, not to touch it until the legislature is done,” she said.
When Franchot met with resort business leaders last spring to launch his “Let Summer Mean Summer” and “Line in the Sand” initiatives, the comptroller said the early start date for schools has made it increasingly difficult for small businesses in Ocean City and across the state.
For example, 32 million domestic travelers visited Maryland last year and the tourism sector employs over 340,000 workers with the summer months particularly busy. An August week in Ocean City can generate almost $5 million in state and local revenues, and nearly $3 million can be generated on a holiday weekend.
State law requires a 180-day school year, but Franchot has said he is confident the best public school system in the country would be able to achieve the mandated number of days with a post-Labor Day start.