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Md. educators object to recommendation that public schools open after Labor Day

Three groups representing Maryland educators have expressed opposition to a legislative task force’s recommendation to delay the opening of the state’s public schools until after Labor Day.

A letter sent Tuesday to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and leaders of the General Assembly contends that a delay in the start of school would not be in the best interest of students. The letter was signed by leaders of the Maryland State Education Association, the Public Schools Superintendents Association of Maryland and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education

The groups raised concerns about the loss of local authority over the school calendar as well as the effect that a later start would have on teacher training and on the ability of teachers to prepare students for mandated testing.

“While we appreciate the recommendation, it appears to be based on purely economic reasons,” the letter says. “We strongly believe school-related decisions should be determined locally and based on meeting the academic needs of our students, providing professional development for our faculties, and honoring the wishes of our communities.”

The recommendation would not affect the calendars of Maryland’s 24 public school systems in the coming school year. State lawmakers would have to pass legislation for such a change to occur.

Read the letter from Maryland educators

MSEA letter

Maryland educators wrote a letter to state officials opposing a task force recommendation to start public schools after Labor Day, a move that the educators said is based solely on economics and could compromise academic progress. Read the letter.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a strong supporter of delaying the start of the school year, has said the change could mean more than $7.7 million in additional state tax revenue and $74.3 million in additional economic activity. Many school districts in the state begin classes a week before Labor Day.

O’Malley signed legislation last year to create the task force, which was charged with studying the effect a later start would have on the state and its schools. The task force looked at the possible effects on the school calendar, the economy and summer tourism.

The task force — which included teachers, administrators, members of the tourism community, business leaders, parents and state lawmakers — voted 12 to 3 to recommend delaying the starting date to allow for longer summer vacations. Its final report was due to O’Malley at the end of June.

Nina Smith, a spokesman for O’Malley, said Tuesday that the governor’s office received the letter and appreciated the concerns of all the parties involved.

All of Maryland’s public school systems reopened before Labor Day last year. The last time a significant number of state school systems opened after Labor Day was 10 years ago, when the city of Baltimore and Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties started classes the day after the holiday. Worcester County plans to start after Labor Day when school reopens this year.

Supporters of the recommendation — including the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Tourism Council — plan to push for the change when state lawmakers return to Annapolis next year.

David Reel, president and chief executive of the hotel and lodging group, said local school systems do not want to lose any power over their schedules and, therefore, will not acknowledge the effect the additional revenue could have. He said that the state would mandate starting after Labor Day but that local school systems could still manage their calendars.

“This is not a horrendous overreach,” Reel said. “I think they are being a little shortsighted.”

The educators said they are concerned that delaying the start of the school year could threaten the consistently high rankings that Maryland receives for its education policies and student performance.

“We find this recommendation of the Labor Day Task Force to be not only counterproductive and counterintuitive to the needs of our students, educators, and school systems, but also it has the potential to undermine the academic progress that we have made and must continue to make,” their letter says.

Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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