Berlin Hosting School Date Petition Effort

BERLIN — Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) have already returned to a post-Labor Day start but last week the town of Berlin began hosting at Town Hall Comptroller Peter Franchot’s petition calling for all Maryland public schools to return to the traditionally later start date.

WCPS taking the plunge was a good first step, according to town leadership, but the full benefit won’t be realized until all schools in the state begin after Labor Day.

“I know myself and I believe that, in this transition that we’re going through, that a majority of the council feels that this move to have all public school systems start after Labor Day would have many more benefits than just Worcester doing it,” Mayor Gee Williams said.

Last Friday Berlin became the latest town to add one of Franchot’s petitions requesting schools start after Labor Day to town hall. While Ocean City has been under the spotlight advocating for a change, Berlin also has something on the line, said Williams, which is why he and the council chose to add the petition to town hall with the mayor among the first to sign it.

Franchot began the petition drive in August as part of his “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign with the goal of collecting at least 10,000 signatures to present to the Maryland General Assembly when legislators re-convene in January.

“I believe there’s still tremendous potential for growth in the shoulder seasons but when you add an extra summer weekend at the height of the summer you’re talking major impact,” Williams said.

Starting schools before Labor Day is a relatively recent development, only being phased in over the last decade. While an earlier start makes it easier for schools to stay on schedule for state assessments and testing as well as meeting mandated minimums for educational hours, Williams argued that it would only take minor schedule tweaking to allow a post-Labor Day start while still allowing plenty of time to prepare for exams. WCPS returning later this year is one such example.

“I’ve told people, ‘Did anybody notice that Worcester County schools started after Labor Day this year and the world did not come to an end?’” said Williams.

Tourism is a huge industry, not just in Worcester but across Maryland, and the hope is that a later start will leave students more time not only for summer jobs but for summer vacations as well.

“The family is always at the bottom of the list and I guess as I’m getting older I’m realizing that so much of what we do keeps families so busy that why would we want to take away one week where they could get together?” asked Williams. “Historically, a lot of people used it for family reunions … Labor Day weekend was a great weekend for family reunions.”

As it stands, Williams compared the economic punch delivered each summer by a pre-Labor Day start as a “guaranteed hurricane every year” in terms of revenue lost by shorting the season.

Franchot has also underlined the loss of revenue caused by having the first day of school in August, quoting 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. A state-appointed task force made the recommendation in May that all Maryland schools begin after Labor Day, though whether they will be heeded won’t likely be known until the General Assembly meets again.

Not everyone share’s the county and the comptroller’s belief that a later start date is a clear win, however. Last July three Maryland education organizations — the Maryland State Education Association, the Public Schools Superintendents Association of Maryland and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education — all protested the task force recommendation that schools start after Labor Day.

The groups cited fears that a later start wouldn’t leave enough time for teacher training nor would it leave a reasonable period to prep students for assessments. There was also an issue of preserving local school board autonomy as Franchot’s “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign calls for a mandatory post-Labor Day first school day. That decision should be left up to the counties, the groups suggested, and not influenced by purely economic reasoning, which is how they view the Comptroller’s effort.

A representative of the Comptroller’s Office could not be reached for an update on how many signatures statewide have been gathered so far.

Williams has confirmed that the petition will be available in Berlin’s town hall for as long as people are signing it and hopes that residents and visitors will take advantage of the convenience while walking downtown.

The petition can also be found online at under the Public Services tab.