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Bill would prevent Ohio schools from starting before Labor Day

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:51 PM

A proposal to prevent the school year from starting prior to Labor Day has been met with resistance by some local politicians and school officials.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) has proposed a bill in the Ohio Senate regarding a delayed start of the school year.

Gardner, who said he had always been reluctant to support such legislation, changed his mind after seeing some numbers from Cedar Point. Michigan has enacted a law similar to the one he proposes and Cedar Point saw Michigan attendance figures in the weeks before Labor Day jump from about 70,000 in 2004 to more than 100,000 in 2006, after the law was fully implemented.

"The results from Michigan came in and showed a significant increase in travel and tourism," Gardner said. "At the very least, Ohio needs a more focused, vigorous debate on post-Labor Day calendar."

But Gardner will find little support in Huron County, an area that certainly tries to piggyback on the tourism success in Sandusky.

Norwalk City Schools Superintendent Wayne Babcanec called it an "amusement park idea." He did say that, in some ways, such a proposal would make no difference because the school district still has to go 180 days. However, he had concerns about having two or three football games played before school even starts.

South Central Superintendent Ben Chaffee said he would not be in favor of this proposal either his school opens five or six days before Labor Day.

"We don't get any complaints" about starting so early, he said.

Rep. Matt Barrett (D-Amherst) said many bills are being proposed about the school calendar, but he would not support Gardner's because the decision about when school starts should be left up to the districts, which already have the power to set their own calendars.

On the other hand, Sen. Sue Morano (D-Lorain) said the beginning of school often conflicts with county fairs, specifically the Lorain County Fair. And, while she is keeping an open mind to school officials' concerns, she thinks altering the school calendar would be good for businesses that rely on warm weather to draw visitors.

"A later start date into September would benefit the water parks and businesses that depend on good weather," she said. "The water parks and Cedar Point would appreciate some better weather."

Gardner added that most people in the travel and tourism industry would rather have the week or two at the end of August and beginning of September than the beginning weeks in June.

"I would not ask a state legislator that question, I would ask someone whose an expert in travel and tourism ... They'd be glad to trade a couple of weeks in June, to a couple of weeks before Labor Day."

Officials from Cedar Point were unavailable for comment.

But, Barrett contends that if the state starts to plan its school year based on one particular brand of tourism, nothing would stop another city, such as Cleveland, from lobbying to expand winter break so more people can see its Christmas display.

"I am for home rule," he said. "I don't think there's one cookie cutter answer. The state should not be making that level of decision for the school districts."

And, if there is one approach, Gov. Ted Strickland said that approach should actually go the other way.

"I'm a guy who thinks we seriously need to consider a longer school year," he said recently at the Associated Press legislative preview. He said the school calendars are based on when the country was an agrarian society and, while the economy has shifted away from that, schools have not.

Joking he was going to make himself an unpopular person with school children, he said the state needs to be looking at longer school days and, eventually, year-long schooling.

"Those are things that need to be seriously considered. We're in the fight of our life in today's global economy," Strickland said, and education is the best and only weapon we have.

Babcanec had a similar opinion.

"We're continually being compared with other educational systems world wide," he said. "They are all in session more than we are in the United States."

Gardner, however, countered by saying that school districts already can set their own calendars.

"Right now schools in Ohio have the freedom to choose a year-long calendar if they wanted. There have been few that wanted to do that. So, whatever the governor feels about year-round school, the chances are very slim."

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