Area school officials oppose Sept. start

The school year in Washington County districts has started in August for well over a decade, but bills sponsored by a state senator and a representative from the lakeside areas of northern Ohio would turn back the clock, allowing schools to start after Labor Day.

Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Rep. Steven Arndt, R-Port Clinton, are pushing companion bills that would allow the later start to the school year, and would also require any districts that decide to continue opening in August to hold a public meeting announcing that decision 30 days before the start of school.

Manning and Arndt have argued that starting school after the Labor Day weekend in early September would be good for tourism in the state, encouraging families to travel. Their districts include Cedar Point amusement park, which would benefit from additional traffic at the end of summer.

The bill is similar to one proposed during a previous legislative session.

Three representatives of school administrations in Washington County unequivocally think it’s a bad idea.

Tony Dunn, superintendent of Belpre City Schools, said this isn’t the first time such legislation has been proposed, but his district starts in mid-August for several sound educational reasons, one of which is to conclude the first semester and its associated exams and credits before the winter break.

“The ‘start after Labor Day and end before Memorial Day’ discussion is perennial, and it mostly centers around the entertainment industry, which claims starting school too early and ending it too late cuts into the revenue stream for their industry,” Dunn said. “While the amusement park revenue stream is important economically for all of us, it is not one of the driving factors when it comes to a school calendar in southeast Ohio.”

In recent years, he said, it has become important to keep the first semester within the calendar year, and districts determine a start date by counting backwards from the winter break.

“Trying to refocus students on ending a semester a couple of weeks after returning from an extended break can be a challenge, especially at the secondary level. High schools are still very much driven by semester exams and credits being issued at that semester break, in many cases,” he said.

Supporters of the legislation note that a later start would benefit students by keeping them out of school buildings that aren’t air conditioned during the heat of August, but Marietta City Schools curriculum director Jona Hall said the students would need to remain in school well into June, which also can be hot.

“Starting with Labor Day has a lot to do with the old agrarian calendar, where kids were needed to bring in the harvest,” she said. “Now, the need for education is much different than it was historically. The content that needs to be covered is much greater. If you start later, you still have the state mandates governing the amount of time, the ‘minutes in the seat,’ and that means you’d push the school year later, into June.”

The year for Marietta schools is scheduled to start Aug. 22, nearly two weeks before the Tuesday after Labor Day.

The change also would throw the high school calendar even further out of alignment with college schedules than it already is, affected the increasing numbers of students who are taking College Placement Plus courses.

“It is absolutely a concern for CPP students,” Hall said. Classes at Marietta College start Aug. 26 and final exams wind up May 3.

Superintendent Brian Rentsch at Frontier Local Schools, which is scheduled to start classes Aug. 21, said the date issue hasn’t been considered, but if the measure passes he would ask the board to opt for an August start.

“All of our buildings have air conditioning, so the August heat usually doesn’t impact us,” he said. “If it’s passed, I would ask the board to pass a resolution to keep our school calendar as it is.”

Stephanie Starcher, superintendent at Fort Frye Local Schools, agreed with her colleagues.

“I am not an avid supporter of legislation that takes away local control, such as imposing a state-wide school start date,” she said. “With state testing mandated to be completed by early May, districts are more likely to start in August to allow for more of the instructional time to occur prior to state testing in early May.”

The proposal

¯ Senate Bill 34, House Bill 539.

¯ Status: Both in committee.

¯ Sponsors: Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, District 13, Huron and Lorain counties, Cleveland;

Rep. Steven Arndt, R-Port Clinton, District 89, Erie and Ottawa counties, Sandusky.

¯ Bill’s intent: Allow school districts to start sessions after Labor Day, with an opt-out provision requiring a public meeting 30 days before the start of school.