- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Michael Martirano, superintendent of St. Mary’s County public schools, would like to shorten the summer vacations of students.
He proposes — not next summer but sometime in the future — starting the school year in early August. That would be a couple of weeks earlier than usual in St. Mary’s.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot does not approve. When Martirano appeared before the state’s Board of Public Works last week, Franchot told the superintendent so. In fact, Franchot thinks school already starts too early. The first day of classes should be after Labor Day, the comptroller believes. Last summer, students started classes in St. Mary’s public schools on Aug. 22.
These two men come at this from two different perspectives.
As an educator, Martirano believes that the summer break is too long. Students forget too much of what they learned, study skills atrophy and too much time at the beginning of the school year is spent reviewing material the class covered the previous year.
As a tax collector, which is a large part of the comptroller’s job, Franchot believes that summer shouldn’t be cut short. Starting class before Labor Day puts a crimp in family vacation plans, and that takes a bite out of the bottom line. If the crowds peter out in early August at Ocean City on the Atlantic Coast, Deep Creek Lake in the Allegheny mountains and Maryland amusement parks in between, businesses dependent on tourism suffer. That means sales and amusement taxes decline and the state government’s budget takes a hit.
Before students sign up for the comptroller’s 2014 re-election campaign, though, or lobby the school board not to renew the superintendent’s contract, they need to know that Martirano isn’t planning to extend the amount of time they spend in class.
The school year would still be 180 days. In exchange for starting classes a couple of weeks earlier in the summer, students would likely get a week off in October and a week off in February. The theory is that more frequent, though shorter, breaks would refresh young minds, not empty them as the long summer break does.
But this altered schedule is not just a theory. It mirrors the calendar for the Chesapeake Public Charter School, the school on Great Mills Road for elementary and middle school students. Other school districts in other places follow a similar schedule.
The comptroller says his objection to the early start to the school year is “mainly because of the kids,” who should enjoy the dog days of summer. But he noted that families planning vacations will be less likely to spend fall and winter breaks in the state; they’ll head to warmer climes, like Florida. “None of those taxes come to Maryland, I’ll tell you that,” he said.
Franchot has a role in funding for St. Mary’s schools. He is one of three members of the Board of Public Works, along with the governor and the state treasurer. The board has a great deal to say about how much state school construction money comes to St. Mary’s.
But it comes down to this. The budget for St. Mary’s County schools this year is $183.5 million. For that kind of money, students should get an education that sticks, and Martirano’s proposal for a reconfigured schedule may help.