School Start Petition Will Pass 10,00-Signature Goal, Comptroller Maintains

School Start Petition Will Pass 10,00-Signature Goal, Comptroller Maintains

OCEAN CITY – The “Let Summer Be Summer” petition is nearing the finish line, and is “on pace” to exceed its goal prior to the launch of the 2015 General Assembly session.

“Let Summer Be Summer” is an effort to mandate a post-Labor Day start for public school systems across the state, and on Monday the State of Maryland Comptroller’s Office confirmed with The Dispatch, “The Let Summer Be Summer petition drive has exceeded 10,000 signatures.”

However, on Tuesday, the office retracted the statement, stating, “we are on pace to exceed 10,000 signatures”, as the office is still in the process of entering data.

“The Let Summer Be Summer initiative has attracted strong, deep support from every corner of our state,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said on Monday. “We will well exceed our goal of 10,000 signatures, sending a clear message to our new governor and the General Assembly that this is easy, meaningful reform. This common sense effort will help to bolster the tourism-based economy that has to contend with the loss of seasonal help at the most inopportune time. It will be a tremendous boost to the tourism industry and small businesses that support it in places like Ocean City. But most importantly, it will give Maryland families and teachers another week to enjoy summer.”

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 the online petition drive in August.

Franchot was on Ocean City’s Boardwalk near the Inlet to launch the petition drive seeking at least 10,000 signatures to present to the General Assembly during its 2015 session, which begins the second week of January. Franchot said the 10,000 signature petition drive would be delivered to state lawmakers still skeptical about the change.

At that time, 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.

The study also found that 8.5 percent of 514,680 affected families – those with school age children – would take either a new day trip or a new overnight trip to one of Maryland’s three top destinations – Baltimore City, Deep Creek Lake or Ocean City. Another 5.2 percent would take a new out-of-state day or overnight trip and the remaining families would devote at least one more day to a family recreational activity close to home.

Earlier this year, Worcester County Public Schools voted to start school on Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day, which the comptroller praised. Instead of reducing the 180-day school year, the comptroller is confident the remainder of the state’s school systems would be able to adjust their calendars throughout the academic year without losing time for instruction in the classroom.

According to Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones, just a few weeks ago the petition was falling short of its goal.

“We have been working hard to collect signatures mentioning the petition everywhere we go, and it will be great news if we pass the 10,000 mark,” Jones said. “I would imagine that there will be senators to submit a bill in the legislative session. We will fully support them and testify in support of the measure.”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan recognized the importance in the “Let Summer Be Summer” petition receiving an abundance of support.

“It is an example of how interested Marylanders are in making sure the date for school starting is moved to after Labor Day,” the mayor said. “It certainly garnered a lot of interest. The movement to go in the direction of a post-Labor Day school start has certainly been recognized and more and more people are realizing the positive effects it has not only for the businesses but for the students and parents.”

A post-Labor Day school start date has been an upward battle, Meehan said, but the petition will verify its importance for Marylanders.

“I hope to be there when he [Franchot] presents the petition. Those of us who support this need to stand behind the Comptroller, and support his efforts to make sure everybody realizes how important this is and what a benefit it will be to the State of Maryland,” he said. “It is exciting, and it has come a long way through the task force that was formed and the recommendation period onto the petition. It has gradually gotten momentum, and the timing is perfect as the signatures were garnered before the legislative session begins. Hopefully, that momentum will continue.”

While the mandated change appears to have strong support locally, it will likely face a stiff challenge from some western shore lawmakers.

Senator Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) last week in an address to a group of educators in Annapolis referred to the proposal as “ridiculous” and essentially said it was short-sighted to mandate the change for the benefit of one community, presumably Ocean City.

While Franchot’s initiative is couched as benefit for tourism-driven communities all over Maryland, from the Atlantic coast to Annapolis and Baltimore to resort areas in western Maryland, it’s no secret the clear beneficiary would be Ocean City. All of the significant announcements regarding the proposed change have been made in the resort area, a concept not lost on Pinsky.

“To pass a state policy to help a community, a business community, increase their profits is absurd,” the senator told state educators last week. “In fact, I believe we should be looking at year-round school. We should be looking at creative ways to engage students. To adopt a policy so people can still either attend a summer vacation or be able to work there and try to foist that on the state of Maryland is shameful,” he said. “I think we ought to reject that as strongly as we can and tell people, you know, let’s put kids first, not your small, narrow economic well-being for one community.”