Moving back start of school good economic sense

Posted Sept. 06, 2010, at 8:41 p.m.

Awful’ Heat Sends Students Home.” “Extreme Heat Closes Schools.” Those were the headlines recently as Maine temperatures soared into the 90s. The recent heat wave is yet another good reason for school to start after Labor Day. Postponing the start of schools until after Labor Day will produce a variety of positive effects.

It will extend Maine families’ summer vacations. Starting school after Labor Day adds an entire week or more to the summer’s visitor season and makes that period viable for family vacations — when our Maine weather is at its best (and this year, at it warmest). Many families are cutting short their family vacations because of the early start date for school.

A later start date will enable students to work up to two weeks longer and earn more money for educational purposes, clothing and other goods. Many student summer workers now start work in early July when the busy season begins and must leave their jobs in early or mid-August to get ready for school.

Summer work not only provides young people with spending money, it also provides work experience — a life skill that is as valuable as going to school. Many students work at summer jobs that will become their career choices. In some instances, Maine students have lost job opportunities to out-of-state students or foreign students because those students from elsewhere could work until after Labor Day.

Maine teachers also are forced to cut short their professional development (or quit their own summer jobs) to return to an early school year.

Changing the school year will extend the so-called tourist season and bring more business to Maine. Many visitor attractions, amusement parks, beaches, restaurants, hotels and shops are in full swing in late August when schools start. Sales drop sharply with the start of the school year, significantly affecting not only revenue for the businesses, but also sales taxes collected for the state.

Hotels in Bar Harbor and along the Maine coast see occupancy drop like a rock in late August when schools start. Since many tourism-related businesses employ Maine high school and college students, those businesses lose much of their work force when school starts.

In Maine, school often starts several days before Labor Day with students going to school for two or three days and then taking several days off for the Labor Day weekend. It makes sense to postpone the start of school until after Labor Day.

We were not able to find any research showing that early school start dates have any positive effect on student learning. In fact, we found a study that showed that the configuration of the school year has no impact on academic achievement.

Many school administrators claim that the start of the school year is a local control issue. We agree. But local control means that we must listen to the locals — parents, students and teachers — not just superintendents.

A study done by Rasmussen Research showed that 66 percent of parents want school to start after Labor Day. In Bellingham, Wash., a majority of teachers, support staff and parents voted to start the school year after Labor Day. School officials should not be so inflexible as to say that the school year cannot be adjusted to accommodate students, their families, teachers and Maine businesses.

Let’s start school after Labor Day. In the meantime, I wonder if those recent days off because of the heat will be considered “snow days.”

Peter Daigle of Dedham is chief operating officer of Lafayette Hotels and chairman of the Maine Innkeepers Legislative Committee.

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