Task Force Endorses Change To Post-Labor Day School Start

OCEAN CITY — A state task force appointed to study the issue of starting the public school calendar after Labor Day this week approved the recommendation by the 12-3 vote, setting up a potential legislative battle to mandate the change.

Following nine months of often tense dialogue and deliberation, members of the state task force appointed to study the issue of a post-Labor Day start date for Maryland public schools on Tuesday voted 12-3 to forward a recommendation to the governor and General Assembly leadership to introduce and pass legislation next year mandating the measure. Heretofore, individual school systems across Maryland have had autonomy to set their own school year start dates and in recent years many, including Worcester, have started well before the traditional bookend to the summer season with some starting as early as mid-August.

However, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot two years ago advocated a mandated post-Labor Day start date for the state’s public schools, pointing out the economic benefits for Maryland’s tourism industry including Ocean City, and the need for families to enjoy the last vestiges of summer before embarking on the rigorous school year.

Franchot’s “Let Summer be Summer” campaign resulted in legislation introduced two years ago that would have mandated the change. State lawmakers did not approve the bill, instead opting to appoint a task force to study the issue from all angles. That task force met for the better part of an entire year before issuing its favorable recommendation this week.

State law required a 180-day school year, but Franchot and the bill’s supporters, including State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), remain confident Maryland’s school administrators will be able to make the appropriate adjustments to meet the mandated number of school days despite starting a week or two later. School superintendents across Maryland, including Worcester Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson, came out opposed to the mandated change, pointing out the challenges it would create with meeting the minimum number of school days and testing programs, for example. However, the Worcester County Board of Education earlier this year broke ranks with its superintendent and voted to push the start of the school year back after Labor Day this year. Franchot was in Newark on Tuesday to present a student award and praised the local school board for its forward thinking on the issue.

“You guys are pioneering for the rest of the state and I am very, very pleased for you because I think, ultimately, it all worked out and folks are going to be very happy with it,” Franchot told the Worcester Board of Education on Tuesday.

For his part, Mathias, who has championed the issue in Annapolis, said he was grateful for the diligence of the task force, which included local businessmen Greg Shockley and G. Hale Harrison among others, on the favorable recommendation.

“I’m very pleased,” he said. “It’s a strong recommendation from a very comprehensive group that has worked for the last several months on this issue.”

The next significant step in the process is introducing legislation in the General Assembly next year to mandate the change. It’s a challenge Mathias gladly accepts, of course presuming he gets re-elected in November.

“Getting together with the governor, the Senate President and the House Speaker is the next important piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Building a strong alliance to get legislation passed next year is the next challenge. That’s my commitment going forward.”

The post-Labor Day school start has been advocated for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the economic benefit for the state’s strong tourism-based economy. An economic impact study commissioned by the Comptroller’s office last year determined starting the public school year after Labor Day could have a $74.3 million impact on the state’s economy and that 8.5 percent of Maryland families with school-age kids would take a late summer vacation to destinations like Ocean City, Deep Creek Lake, Baltimore and Annapolis, for example. Closer to home, the study revealed Ocean City can generate nearly $5 million in state and local revenues in a busy August week with nearly $3 million generated on a holiday weekend alone.

“This is great news for the Eastern Shore and for Ocean City,” said Mathias. “Seeing how tourism is going now, so many aspects of the economy will be the beneficiary. The private sector is making a tremendous investment in their attractions in Maryland and this will enhance their revenue opportunities.”

While the economic benefit can’t be denied, perhaps the biggest beneficiary could be Maryland families, which would have an extra week or two in August to take in that last trip to the beach.

“Aside from the economic benefit is increasing the length of the summer season for Maryland families,” said Mathias. “Families will have another week or even 10 days to enjoy all Maryland has to offer.”