Bill could force public schools to start after Labor Day

STATE – Starting school after Labor Day could help boost Michigan’s summer economy, according to several state legislators.

Rep. Edward Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe, along with Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire, have drafted a bill that would require all Michigan public schools to end summer vacation after Labor Day, hoping this will improve the summer tourism economy.

School districts that have bargaining agreements before Labor Day would not be subject to the new requirement until after the agreement expires.

In places like Traverse City, restaurant and hospitality business owners said extending summer vacation statewide could have a positive impact on business.

Fred Moore, co-owner of Magnum Hospitality, isn’t sure how much it would help business, but is in support of the bill.

“I feel a post-Labor Day (starting date) would certainly help staffing,” said Moore. He owns restaurants in Boyne, Elk Rapids, Harbor Springs and the new Red Mesa Grill in Traverse City.

Robert Gattin, chairman of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau board, says since tourism is a key industry in this area, “improvement in the industry would carry over to our local economy.”

Gattin, who manages Holiday Inn West Bay, sees significant decline in reservations after the second week of August.

“We consistently see the demand drop off at a time when we’re enjoying beautiful weather,” said Gattin. “If schools started after Labor Day, you would see tremendous impact on the tourism business and industry.”

But opponents to the bill, such as Rep. Bruce Caswell, R-Pittsford, said that starting school after Labor Day would do nothing to improve the economy.

“The information presented to me gave no indication that this bill would increase tourism dollars,” he said.

Caswell and Rep. Stephen Adamini, D-Marquette, said the school calendar should be determined by local school boards, not the state.

“School boards understand the district better than we do,” said Adamini. “Our district likes to start earlier and get out earlier.”

However, with recent changes in Michigan law shifting a state mandate from a minimum number of days (180) to a minimum number of hours (1,098), school districts now have the flexibility to easily start school after Labor Day, Elsenheimer said.

But as Caswell points out, high school athletics start by the middle of August.

“For parents with kids who don’t drive, that’s less trips they have to take when the school year begins earlier, less money spent on gas.”

He added it would be especially difficult for residents of very rural areas, where the school may be located 15 miles away or more, to spend more days transporting their children to school when gas prices are high.

“I think by the end of August, kids are anxious to get back to school,” said Adamini.

The bill passed in the state House with 69 votes in favor of a post-Labor Day start date.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration. BN