Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, two of the state’s strongest advocates for starting the school year after Labor Day, say they will make a major announcement on the subject Wednesday.
On Monday, the comptroller’s office scheduled a news conference “regarding Maryland public schools’ starting date” that would take place in Ocean City, the only jurisdiction in the state where public schools stay closed for the summer until after the holiday.
Neither Hogan’s nor Franchot’s offices would reveal the nature of the announcement.
But a media advisory sent out by Franchot’s office, first reported by the Daily Record newspaper, triggered speculation that Hogan would take some sort of executive action to delay the start of the school year statewide — a move that would be popular with Ocean City business owners but unwelcome to many local school officials.
“Clearly it’s about that,” Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-
Worcester), who plans to appear with Hogan (R) and Franchot (D) at Wednesday’s event, told the Daily Record. “It’s about starting school after Labor Day.”
Mathias, who has sponsored several failed bills to prohibit school years from starting before the September holiday, told The Washington Post later on Monday that he has “no more insight” into what the governor and comptroller might announce, other than that the subject would be school start dates.
Asked whether the governor can mandate a statewide school start date, Franchot spokesman Alan Brody said: “We’re not going to get into those kinds of comments until Wednesday.”
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education, has long opposed the idea of mandating a post-Labor Day start date. He noted Monday that local school systems historically have controlled their own calendars, and said the state legislature could pass a bill to block an executive order if Hogan issues one.
“He’s basically telling schools that your local decision is wrong, and they should follow the interests of a few businesses in Ocean City at the expense of children,” Pinsky said.
Mathias said a later start date would help families, as well as businesses in the beachy tourist community he represents.
“This gives them . . . as much as a week to continue enjoying their time,” he said. “They could be doing that throughout the state, whether in Western Maryland with the mountains, or in Baltimore city, with the Orioles or Fort McHenry.”
Michael Durso, president of the Montgomery County school board, questioned whether the governor could legally require school years to begin after Labor Day, noting that some school systems currently start up to two weeks before the holiday.
“I think the state would be usurping an issue that is best left to the local school systems,” he said. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t always work.”
Patricia O’Neill, another member of Montgomery’s school board, said she would like Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) to weigh in on whether the governor has the authority to set a start date.
“It is so counter to the idea of local control,” she said. “I am infuriated with the prospect of the governor messing and meddling with what school systems deem best for children.”
Classes started Monday in Montgomery County, and the school board is considering a proposal to open the school year even earlier in 2017.
School officials in Prince George’s County opposed Mathias’s start-date bill during this year’s legislative session. In a statement explaining their position, they pointed to an array of considerations that they weigh when developing a school-year calendar, including instructional goals, summer programs and testing schedules.
Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, declined to comment before Wednesday’s announcement.
In the past, MSEA has not opposed the idea of individual districts choosing to start after Labor Day, but it has objected to legislation that would mandate that all districts start after Labor Day, he said.
Fairfax County, the largest school district in Virginia, will move the start of its school year before Labor Day starting next year. Virginia passed a law two decades ago mandating a post-Labor Day start, but school systems can receive waivers from the state and start classes earlier.