Bill may set later school start date

By Adam H. Covici

The Daily Texan

2/17/05

Support is growing for a uniform public school start date as state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, filed legislation Tuesday requiring all Texas public schools to begin classes no earlier than the first Tuesday after Labor Day.

"Senate Bill 510 will mean more dollars staying in the school district instead of going to pay high bills for air conditioning and other utilities during the hottest months of the year, when classes currently start," Lucio said.

In September 2004, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn identified $790 million forfeited by the state each year due to early August start dates. The sum is the net result of school operation and utility costs, additional child care for parents and teachers, loss of income for migrant workers and diminished tourism.

Two weeks ago, state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, said the potential savings had convinced him to include a later school start date in the House's major public education legislation, House Bill 2.

Lucio has tried for several years to get a later start date and was partly successful during the 77th Legislature when Senate Bill 108 passed. SB 108 required schools to start no earlier than the week in which Aug. 21 falls, with Sunday as the first day of the week, but provided schools with the opportunity to obtain a waiver allowing the district to start earlier in the year.

Plano ISD has voiced concerns about the later start date and last year obtained a waiver to start school Aug. 4, earlier than any major school district in the state.
Nancy Long, Plano ISD spokeswoman, said the district bases its start date on the needs of the community and staff, and believes the decision should ultimately be a local one.

"Our community desires a week of fall break," Long said. "It helps break up the semester, and we want a calendar similar to that of a collegiate calendar. That means finals before winter break."

Doris Sanchez, Lucio's press secretary, said the opposition to SB 510 have based their disapproval on two arguments: Secondary level schools are opposed to exams after winter break, and districts don't want to lose control over their own calendars.

"We want people to understand that the calendar for the school year will still be under local control, so depending on a district's situation, exams before Christmas will still be possible," Sanchez said. "SB 510 only mandates the start date for schools. The districts won't lose any control over when the year ends and how many holidays they observe."

Richard Kouri, director of public affairs for the Texas State Teachers' Association, said the organization currently takes a neutral stance on the start date, but that could change as the issue receives more attention.

"A lot of folks on the secondary level are concerned about post-Christmas exams because after being out for two weeks, the students need a week of review," Kouri said. "On the other hand a lot of teachers and students have summer jobs that get cut into by an early start-date."

David Teel, director of programs and planning for the Texas Travel Industry Association, said he was delighted to see the Legislature discussing a later school-start date, something the travel industry has been in favor of for a long time.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark is one tourist spot that has been affected by a shortened summer. In recent summers the park resorted to hiring foreign students because they can work later into the fall than local students.

"If starting in August was any better for education, we would be all for it, but the calendar shift has nothing to do with education," said Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Sherrie Brammall. "The biggest effect the change has here is on our employees, many of whom are students, teachers or school-bus drivers. They lose the opportunity to work all summer."


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