Comptroller Peter Franchot seeks to delay start of Maryland's school year until after Labor Day

Petition drive to launch on Thursday

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The first day of school in most parts of Maryland is still a few weeks away.

But now is the time when Rick Meehan starts to see a mass exodus of seasonal employees from Ocean City. Those teens are already in back-to-school mode, said the resort town’s mayor, particularly if they play fall sports.

“Our businesses rely on our seasonal workers,” Meehan said. “And it seems like all of those young adults have to leave so early.”

The mayor is among the group of town officials who will join Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot on the Ocean City boardwalk Thursday as he kicks off his Let Summer Be Summer petition drive.

Franchot is trying to collect at least 10,000 signatures in support of starting school after Labor Day. He plans to present the signatures to the Maryland General Assembly when the 2015 legislative session begins in January.

The school board in Worcester County, where Ocean City is, already voted to start the 2014-2015 school year on Sept. 2, the latest start date in the state, according to media reports. Most other school districts begin the week before.

“It just seems un-American to start school before Labor Day,” Meehan said.

But starting school after Labor Day would mean more than just extended summer fun, Franchot says. It could mean an economic boon worth millions.

Franchot says starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day would result in an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity.

“It’s an issue that’s been on his mind for the past couple years,” said Franchot’s spokeswoman, Christine Feldmann. “In recent years, it seems like the start of school has gotten earlier and earlier.”

Last August, Franchot asked the state Bureau of Revenue Estimates to study the economic impact of a later start date. The report found starting schools after Labor Day would also net an additional $3.7 million in new wages and another $7.7 million in state and local revenue. 

A statewide task force voted 11 to 4 in May in favor of extending summer vacation by a week or more.

“We’re hopeful that legislators will take up this issue in the 2015 session,” said Nicole Christian, president of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. “It is our number one priority. It would be good for families, good for businesses.”

Garrett County is home to Deep Creek Lake, a popular vacation destination in western Maryland.

The last few days of August are “critical” to Garrett County tourism, especially with the region’s short summers, Christian said.

The last six days of August are about three times more profitable for businesses than the first six days of June, she said.

“Weather is the biggest part of it,” she said. “And people are adjusting to the fact that school is just getting out.”

Christian said she doesn’t want to see schools cut the number of instructional days.

“We believe there is some flexibility within the calendar,” she said. 

Some local school officials believe start dates should be decided on a district-by-district basis. Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas S. Dance has said he’s not in favor of a state law forcing schools to start after Labor Day, school district spokesman Mychael Dickerson said.

That’s something he feels should be left up to individual school districts and their boards of education. Dance has not taken a position on whether Baltimore County schools should start after Labor Day, Dickerson said. 

Through a spokeswoman, Harford County Schools Superintendent Barbara P. Canavan also said local school districts should be granted autonomy regarding the start of school year.

"The post Labor Day start to school is replete with, but not limited to, complications pertaining to instruction, student assessments, professional development opportunities and preserving traditional family time throughout the school year for all members of our school community,” she said. 

Leslie Beveridge, a teacher at Easton Elementary in Talbot County, said she understands the fear that if school starts later, it will end later.

“That’s the only downside I could see,” said Beveridge, who has taught in Talbot County Schools for nine years. “But it sounds as though districts would be able to work with their calendars.”

Before coming to Maryland, Beveridge taught school for a year in her native New Jersey, where schools typically start after Labor Day. She said she was surprised that it’s different in Maryland.

“I think for our students it would be a good thing, as well as for our teachers,” she said. “You can have a full summer with your family. During the school year, we work so hard and spend a lot of time at home on school work. The time I have with my family is really valuable.”