Post-Labor Day School Start Looming as Big Local Issue

OCEAN CITY- With the holiday season in full swing and the school year only about halfway complete, already the debate about moving the start of the school year back beyond Labor Day next year is already looming as a significant local issue in the upcoming General Assembly session.
Last spring, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill that created a task force to study the issue of moving the start date for public schools across the state back after Labor Day after years of mid-August returns. The task force has met at least two times now and is expected to present its findings to the General Assembly in the upcoming session, paving the way for legislation that could affect the change.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot last year pushed legislation to create task force to study a post-Labor Day start date for public schools, citing the economic benefit while preserving the mandated number of days in the school calendar. In a report released in August, Franchot pointed out a post-Labor Day start date for schools could result in $7.7 million in state and local revenue and an additional $74 million in direct economic impact.
Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) introduced legislation in the 2013 session that would establish a task force to study the issue and state lawmakers approved the bill. The task force, which includes Ocean City business owners Greg Shockley and G. Hale Harrison, met for the first time in October and has met again at least once more and has begun preparing recommendations to the General Assembly.
At the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting on Wednesday, Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel told resort business leaders the task force has reportedly made great strides in formulating its recommendations for the change.
“This is very important for Ocean City,” she said. “They’ve had two meetings and from everything we’ve gathered, the meetings have been very positive.”
Pursel said the task force is working through a myriad of issues, including satisfying the state-mandated number of school days in the year and standardized testing schedules.
“There are just so many variables,” she said. “It seems like the big push-back so far has been the Board of Education because of concerns with their test dates.”
Mathias, who led the charge to get the bill establishing the task force passed, said he continues to work the issue on both sides of the aisle as the new session looms in about a month.
“This is a priority issue for me,” he said. “We are working it and working the politics of it. It’s a very, very important issue for us in this district and all over the state. This has economic implications and quality of life implications. We have a very strong tourism industry in Maryland and this will avail families across the state the opportunity to enjoy more vacation time together.”
EDC Chairman Michael James agreed the issue is important for Ocean City and Worcester, as well as the resort areas in western Maryland. While some view the proposed change as a local issue in the resort areas most affected by it, James said any attempt at getting legislation passed will need support from the populous center of the state.
“We’ve got some important issues coming up,” he said. “This back-to-school issue is big for us. We need to work with the big counties to get this through. Unfortunately, we don’t have the population on the Eastern Shore sometimes to move things, so we’re going to need some help.”