Commission outlines pros, cons of later school start date

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A commission studying whether New Hampshire schools should be required to start after Labor Day isn’t taking sides, though it emphasizes the economic upside and suggests ways to alleviate opponents’ concerns about such a mandate.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu created the “Save Our Summers Study Commission” in late August to examine how a mandatory post-Labor Day start date would affect tourism, academic performance, athletic programs and other areas. Several other states already have taken that step, but doing so in New Hampshire would reverse a growing trend toward earlier opening days. This year, 80 percent of the state’s schools started before Labor Day.

The commission didn’t make recommendations in the report it issued this week. Instead, it summarized arguments on both sides of the issue, and gave some suggestions should lawmakers decide to tackle it.

Organizations representing teachers, administrators and school boards all were opposed to the idea, citing a desire to maintain local discretion and decision-making power. While teachers’ union officials also suggested a later start date could hurt student achievement, they provided no evidence to back that up, the report states. The New Hampshire School Administrators Association raised similar concerns, though its director said districts would adapt should the state mandate a later start time. And the New Hampshire School Board Association said it might be willing to reconsider its opposition if state revenue generated in the days leading up to Labor Day were earmarked for public schools.

Commission Chairman Jamie Burnett said that suggestion underscored that even opponents acknowledge a mandate is doable. The report suggests delaying a mandate for a few years would give districts time to adjust, particularly those with multi-year teachers contracts that require a certain number of professional development days. Burnett said that could alleviate what he saw as the biggest obstacle — resistance to sudden change.

“It’s really a matter of inertia. We didn’t get to this point with 80 percent of schools starting before Labor Day overnight,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Businesses tied to tourism said the earlier start dates mean fewer customers and teenage staff. The commission also heard from economist Brian Gottlob, who said if all public schools had started after Labor Day in 2016, spending subject to the state’s rooms and meals tax would have increased by $10.4 million, and all recreation and tourism spending would have increased by $17.3 million. The total economic impact of starting school after Labor Day is estimated at an additional $24 million and $34 million.

None of the preliminary bill titles submitted by the incoming Legislature appear to take up the issue. But Burnett said he expects lawmakers will debate it in some form. Sununu suggested the same in thanking the commission for its work.

“It will serve as a roadmap for policymakers as they consider and debate whether schools should start before or after Labor Day,” he said.