Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

It’s looking more and more like the Labor Day school start mandate legislation will not be a slam dunk by any means. It’s most likely that way because the bill’s timing could not come at a worst year for several reasons.

One is the calendar, which can obviously not be controlled. Labor Day this year falls on Sept. 7, the latest possible date. Therefore, the earliest schools could start under this mandate is Sept. 8, which is when Worcester County school students will return. Over in Wicomico County, the Board of Education voted this week to start on Aug. 31. Some area private schools are also starting prior to Labor Day, including Worcester Preparatory School, which almost always starts the day after the holiday but will start this year on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Secondly, there is robust opposition from public school organizations questioning the move. The opposing groups have become organized and include a number of associations that represent key voices in state education. These groups are pointing to this winter’s weather closures and the stringent new requirements from Common Core and associated testing as examples of issues that require flexibility in choosing start dates and other relevant school breaks.

Finally, the governor’s support of the measure could turn out to be troublesome. Although all was rosy between the Republican governor and leadership of the opposing and leading Democratic party after he won the election last November, everything took a turn for the worst after his “state of the state” speech to open the legislative session. Immediately feelings changed once Hogan’s speech continued with many of his campaign points and openly criticized the status quo in Maryland. It’s one thing to openly criticize Democratic leaders on the campaign trail but another thing to do it directly in front of them.

The subsequent sour feelings have been evident throughout the session and were confirmed furthermore with a House committee voting 14-7 to shoot down the governor’s bill repealing the so-called rain tax. That was a top legislative priority of Hogan’s and still has a chance if the Senate approves a similar repeal. It would have to return to the House for approval, however.

Add to these concerns a fundamental Republican premise that “big” government — in this case, the legislature — should not be dictating policy to private industry or smaller forms of government — in this case, the school boards.

This is a simple issue for those of us here in Worcester County and it’s all rooted in tradition and tourism with obvious financial and family benefits. Ultimately, I think the bill will pass because a recent poll, conducted by Goucher College, showed 72 percent of Marylanders support the concept of returning to school after Labor Day. The road to approval, however, is probably going to bumpier than expected, but the task force recommendation as well as the recent poll results should be enough.

In the end, Chincoteague, Va. could not pull off what Berlin did last year, but it gave it a good run.

Budget Travel’s America’s Coolest Small Town poll for 2015 recently closed and Grand Marais, Minn., with a population of just 1,351, overwhelmed the field. The town received 30.3% of the votes in the final standings. Chincoteague, Va. represented well, finishing in second place with 24.4%. This was a two-town race from the early going, but Chincoteague could not overcome the Minnesota town.

After the more than 100,000 votes were tabulated, rounding out the top 10 were Hillsborough, N.C., 8.1%; Allegan, Mich., 7%; Washington, N.C., 6.3%; Delhi, N.Y., 5.1%; Fort Myers Beach, Fla., 3.9%; Huron, Ohio, 3%; Snohomish, Wash., 2.9%; and Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 2,9%.

Boardwalk patrons can expect some much brighter scenery this summer as Ocean City reportedly has eight advertising clients lined up for what is technically called a “backlit tram top.” Last summer the city did a trial run of these ads with McDonalds featured, and mixed reviews were heard. Anyone who was willing to look beyond the new revenue it would produce for the city agreed it was tacky and cheesy, but the City Council last October voted 4-3 to move forward with the city selling these placements on the tram.

For the cost of $13,500, a “backlit tram top” can be purchased on a Boardwalk tram for 16 weeks in the summer.

Back in October, Councilman Dennis Dare was among the opposition (along with former Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas).

“It crosses a line,” he said. “I would have to agree the revenue is attractive, but the last time we had a proposal for advertising on the trams and we authorized, we fell way short. While one out of 16 cars stands out, I don’t think all 16 will have the wow effect, and I don’t think you will be able to sell all of them.”

It was learned this week that Dare will probably be right in that prediction, as staff reported eight of the 16 available trams have been sold with a mid-April production deadline looming. It will be interesting to track public sentiments to this new addition to the Boardwalk and if frowned upon whether it makes any difference to the city.