Post-Labor Day school start

Critics still unhappy with mandate

When Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed House Bill 4803 into law in late 2005, industry experts said shifting the start of the school year to after Labor Day would pump millions of needed dollars into Michigan’s lagging tourism economy. Many school officials, however, decried the top-down regulation, which they said took decision-making power away from them.

Tourism, which is often referred to as one of Michigan’s top three industries – along with automobiles and agriculture – generates about $17.5 billion a year, according to the Michigan State University Tourism Resource Center. Don Holecek, who directs the center, told Michigan Education Report that the post-Labor Day start should increase tourism spending by about 5 percent over 2005, because two-thirds of Michigan’s travel business comes from in-state residents.

"It will be a while before all the data is collected and thoroughly looked at," Holecek said. "But I’d be surprised if we didn’t at least hit that 5 percent mark."

Evidence collected since then seems to support such predictions. Al Zehnder, owner of Zehnder’s Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth, said his business was up 12 percent in the last two weeks of August compared to the same time frame a year ago, Booth reported. Michigan’s Adventure, an amusement and water park located in Muskegon, stayed open on weekdays during the week before Labor Day for the first time in a decade, while Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City had "several hundred" more rooms booked over the last 10 days in August than a year ago, the newspaper reported.

MIRS, a Lansing-based political newsletter, reported that testimony given before the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Tourism Committee showed the change made an impact. Steve Yencinch of the Michigan Hotel, Motel and Resort Association said 53 percent of the group’s members that replied to a survey reported an increase in business during late August. Not all the tourism bump was directed toward the traditional "up north" area either, as Henry Ford Museum reported 26,000 more visitors in late August compared to a year ago, MIRS reported.

Yencinch said a plan by the state to spend $15 million over two years to bolster tourism has so far returned $3.43 in tax revenue for every $1 spent.

Holecek said several factors still have to be considered, and they may or may not have an impact on future years.

"Not all schools were on the new system yet," he said. "Some still had previous contracts in place, so that will take a year or two."

Holecek also said job losses and high gas prices may have limited the amount of traveling by some people.

"It might take a while to change people’s psychology," Holecek added. "To realize they can take trips later into the summer."

The change, however, still has its detractors, including those who say school calendars should be a locally decided issue.

"People in the community are just as smart as the people in Lansing, and we should let them make decisions," Madison Superintendent Jim Hartley told the Adrian Daily telegram.

School boards across the state were opposed to HB 4803, with professional groups such as the Michigan Association of School Boards and the Michigan Association of School Administrators taking official stands against the legislation.

Aside from a boost to the tourism industry, it was predicted that public schools could experience a trickle down effect, because a portion of the sales tax is used for the School Aid Fund, from which per-pupil expenditures are appropriated.

Bob Tebo, superintendent of the Britton-Macon school district, told the Daily Telegram "I hope we get tons," regarding the potential funding increase, but that did not offset his displeasure with the law.

"But as far as kids are concerned, and as far as what goes on in the classroom, it was wrong," he said. "Nobody can convince me that anything that happened about this law was done to benefit the students."

The state in 2005 moved the Michigan Education Assessment Program tests from winter to fall, in hopes that teachers could get results back faster and have time within the current school year to help students in problematic areas. Delaying school until after Labor Day, particularly in years when Labor Day may not fall until its latest possible date, Sept. 8, leaves just a few weeks of preparation before the October MEAP dates.

HB 4803 was not the first legislative foray into school calendars. In 1999, Public Act 141 set a three-year window, beginning with the 2000-2001 school year, wherein the Friday of Labor Day would be a school holiday. That was followed in 2003 with an adjustment of how much time students must spend in school, as the legislature got rid of the previous 180-day mandate and replaced that with a law that said school must meet for 1,098 hours in an academic year. Such a move allowed schools to tailor the length of their days, right down to actual classroom time.