Developing a School Calendar

by Tolbert Rowe

Governor Hogan’s recent decision to take over local control of the school calendar has created quite a stir among supporters who feel it is just “common sense” to start schools after Labor Day and opponents who loath government intervention in what has been a locally controlled matter. Whether for it or against it, I am afraid there is a lot of misunderstanding about how a school calendar is developed and exactly who decides when Maryland’s children begin and end their school year.

First and most important is the process of developing a calendar and who has input into the decision. The calendar is not created by educational bureaucrats hiding behind closed doors deliberating in secret while parents, staff and students wait in the parking lot on Franklin Street for white smoke to appear sometime before the school year ends.
It is a process that begins late in the calendar year and is controlled by the local Board of Education. After soliciting input from stakeholders like parents, teachers, administrators and citizen advisory councils, this group of five locally elected and appointed members considers three and sometime four various proposed calendars. Over a period of four to six months of back and forth between Citizen Advisory Councils and staff, a final calendar is approved by May or early June for publication.

Why our governor who has worked so hard to reduce state government intervention in local autonomy and reduce state regulations that are choking economic prosperity is quite surprising.

I know about the $74.3 million in direct economic impact from the Bureau of Revenue Estimates “Report on the Economic Impact of Post Labor Day Start Date for Maryland Schools” dated August 14, 2013. Reading it and accepting as valid a lot of assumptions used in the results actually lead to many more questions. The biggest assumption being that 8.5% of the 514,680 families affected (43,747 families) will either take an additional overnight or day trip within Maryland and 5.2% would go out of state for a day or 2 with no economic impact for Maryland. If you take out new wages of $3.7 million from the $74.3 million, the remainder, $70.6 million is what additional monies are being spent.

If all the economic impact came from those 43,747 families it would mean that each family would be spending and additional $1,613 because they took advantage of school starting after Labor Day. In the interest of full disclosure the report does also use a formula for those who just stay close to home, go to movies, Oriole Game, Maryland State Fair, etc. This reduces the per family expenditure a little. Come to your own conclusion about how much more families will spend but I think $1,613 is a little much. How much? Who knows?

In Caroline County it has been suggested and proposed to the Board that families in Caroline County would like to have longer spring break, so, after hearing this request, your local board of education added two additional days off before and after Easter. So in the current school year there will be no school Thursday, Friday and Monday and Tuesday, responding to the request of families in Caroline County.

I mention this to address the other glaring irony in the Governor’s proposal that allows schools to go until June 15. Apparently in the Governor and Comptrollers line of thought going to school after Labor Day and adding days to the end of the calendar in June somehow gives families more time to be together. Gaining another week or so of summer before school starts somehow is not offset by the fact that we have to add days or weeks at the end of the school year.

In Caroline County this school year the last day of school is scheduled to be June 8, 2017, with a four day spring break, state mandated days off, Election Day closure, four days off for students while teachers have professional development days and eight days off for Christmas. If the current calendar had to be adjusted to a post Labor Day start we would have to replace eight days that students were in school prior to Labor Day 2016.

First, we could move school’s last day to June 15 making up for five of the eight days. This would be very popular among parents and teachers since kids are so excited about being in school after Memorial Day. NOT! Anyone who has kids knows how much learning gets done in June and how kid’s primary focus is getting out of school. Going to school longer in June and starting school after Labor Day essentially reduces the time available for vacations when accommodations are cheaper in June and more expensive in the weeks just before Labor Day. Don’t believe me, see what hotels cost in June, prior to 4th of July, and what they cost in August.

Next, we would probably go back and take one or two days of spring break away, and then either one or two professional development days, (which would have to be made up by teachers sometime because they have 190 duty days to the student’s 180) or a day at Christmas.

I need to make it clear that this year’s school calendar is not affected by this Order. The previous adjustments to the calendar are my ideas and mine alone. Approval of the school calendar takes a unanimous vote of the five members of the Board of Education.

I know that when I was in school we started after Labor and we went the same 180 days as kids do now. The big difference was that we went to the middle of June. Beginning in the 1980’s it began to fluctuate between starting before and after but since the mid 1980’s we have started school in Caroline County prior to Labor Day. (Thanks to Dr. Patricia Saelens for this info.)

Opponents seem to focus on what it was like “when I went to school” and the fact is the yes, you did start after Labor Day but in more years than not you ended school somewhere around the 15th of June. And, as the Comptroller and Governor have said many times, “it is common sense to start school after Labor Day”. Surveys have been taken that show that over 71% of people polled support the concept of starting school after Labor Day. Who wouldn’t support that concept if there was no corresponding counter effect, like ending school in Mid June. How much sense does it make to add a week of summer at the end of summer break and add a week of school at the beginning of summer break. Doesn’t seem like “common sense” to me.

I don’t buy either of these arguments because when you went to school and started after Labor Day you were in school until the middle of June. Local Boards of Education have, over the last 30 to 40 years listened to their constituents and moved the start date back to before Labor Day so as to be able to get out of school in the beginning of June. For educational reasons kids don’t focus as well after Memorial Day, and economic reasons, accommodations are cheaper in June than August or early September.

Do we need as many professional days? Do we need flexibility in our schedule to accommodate what day of the week Christmas falls and when is Labor Day? Do we need to adjust schedules for testing dates and end of term/semester? Do we need to provide more days off in the spring? Do we need to schedule four snow days in our calendar or do as many systems do and “wing it” with snow days by not scheduling any and adding days to the end of the year? Do we need to move graduation from the end of May to early June?

By the time you read this the validity of Governor Hogan’s Executive Order may, or may not be validated by the Attorney General’s Office. Regardless of this decision, the creation of public school calendars needs to be controlled locally. For the same reason that the majority of school board members are elected as opposed to appointed by the governor, the school calendar needs local input and needs to be controlled locally. Mandating a post Labor Day start is just another power grab. And, if so many people favor starting school after Labor Day let them have their say at the local level and let their local board of education decide what is right for their county with input from those most affected by what it looks like.

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