A task force assigned to study a post-Labor Day start date for Maryland schools will recommend to Gov. Martin O'Malley that the summer break be extended, a measure that has been embraced by one Eastern Shore school district but opposed by most of the state's superintendents.
State officials said that a task force, convened by the Maryland General Assembly last year to study the issue, voted 11-4 this week to recommend that schools open after Labor Day, a move that has been championed by Comptroller Peter Franchot for its economic benefits to local businesses and the state's tourism industry.
This year, school starts in most systems around the state Aug. 26, a week before Labor Day.
Mandating that systems, which determine their own calendars, start school after Labor Day would require legislation or an executive order. A spokeswoman for O'Malley declined to comment on the task force's vote.
Franchot said the vote represented "a good day for Maryland."
"We're one day closer to having schools statewide start the day after Labor Day, and that's a good thing," Franchot said in an interview Tuesday. "Obviously it's a long way from a task force report to legislation, but we've come a long way in the last year. There seems to be some real traction for it."
Franchot said he was encouraged by school districts like Worcester County on the Eastern Shore, where the school board recently voted to start school Sept. 2 this year.
He said he believed the move would benefit families, teachers who rely on income from working through the summer and small businesses.
Last summer, Franchot's office released an economic impact study that found that pushing back the start of the school year would have a $74.3 million effect on the state economy and that an estimated 8.5 percent of Maryland families with school-age children would take an extra in-state vacation to places like Baltimore, Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County or Ocean City.
"The pressure on summer vacation, to make it shorter, is a bad direction the state is going," he said.
But delaying the start of the school year has been opposed by area superintendents, such as in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
And state Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery has said she believes that local jurisdictions should be able to determine whether their school years start before or after Labor Day.
In letters to the Maryland State Department of Education earlier this year, local superintendents strongly opposed a state mandate that they said would infringe on their autonomy to build a school calendar that fits their school communities' needs.
Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance wrote that "a state mandate requiring each school system to open the school year after Labor Day would significantly harm local control and require school systems to extend the school year into the latter part of June or shorten winter and spring breaks, which are important to families."
Dance also wrote that such a mandate would disrupt Advanced Placement and High School Assessment testing schedules for seniors, professional development for teachers, summer school, and school construction and maintenance.
Baltimore City's interim CEO, Tisha Edwards, said that the process of taking input on the school calendar from the community, parents and other stakeholders is important to the system.
"The proposal represents an unnecessary impediment to the efficient operation of the district and places an additional burden on students, staff and families," she wrote. "It also threatens the environment of mutual respect and school family empowerment that is one of the guiding principles driving the success of the transformation in Baltimore City schools."
She also raised issues such as the effect that a mandate would have on the district's ability to build in inclement-weather days.
Franchot said that he's received feedback that the rescheduling school systems had to do this year because of the many snow days used was harder than accommodating a post-Labor Day start.
"Starting school after Labor Day would be a piece of cake compared to what we did," he said. "The state's superintendents don't like the idea of starting school after Labor Day, that's OK, we have a disagreement. But almost everyone else in the state does."
The task force will issue a report on its recommendation by June 30.