Wicomico schools facing fall start-date decisions

Wicomico County schools officials haven’t decided whether they’ll change class start-dates in light of the General Assembly’s overturning of a policy to open schools after Labor Day.

In a political blow to Gov. Larry Hogan and state Comptroller Peter Franchot, the legislature voted last week to override the governor’s veto of a bill that will allow public schools to set their own schedules. The measure axes Hogan’s 2016 executive order mandating the later start, and returns the decision-making authority to local school boards.

Hogan and Franchot had supported the post-Labor Day start at the urging of summer businesses — many of them in Ocean City — who see their workforce evaporate in the weeks immediately preceding Labor Day.

Worcester County has traditionally opened its schools after the holiday.

Schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin wouldn’t say this week how Wicomico will proceed.

“Now that the General Assembly has passed this bill and overridden the governor’s veto, it appears that the legislation will restore school year calendar flexibility to local school systems,” Hanlin said in a statement.

“Local boards of education and school systems will be able to make decisions about the calendar based upon the needs of the school system. Our board will do so while listening to the interests of students, parents, teachers and the community prior to future calendar adoptions,” she said.

Across the state, several school systems complained the Hogan restriction made it difficult to accommodate teacher training days, religious holidays and weather cancelations.

Hogan’s rule requires schools conclude by June 15; Wicomico added to snow make-up days to its schedule this spring, extending the last day to June 14.

Hogan has repeatedly insisted the post-Labor Day policy was popular. A Goucher College poll found 68 percent of Marylanders supported beginning school after Labor Day.

In a statement, the governor said: “I tried to work with members of the Maryland General Assembly on a compromise bill, which was not even scheduled for a hearing. The legislation would have allowed any local school system that decides to start school before Labor Day to be required to put that decision on the ballot for the voters of that jurisdiction to decide for themselves.

“Our administration’s bill would have offered genuine, local control over this important issue. Senate Bill 128 masquerades under the guise of more local control, but instead does the complete opposite of what citizens want,” Hogan said.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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