AUGUSTA (AP) – A bill before the Legislature would prevent most Maine schools from opening before Labor Day in an effort to help tourism-related businesses keep their employees into September.

The bill has the support of many restaurant owners, innkeepers and merchants. Rep. Linda Valentino of Saco, who proposed the bill, said the state should examine having a consistent school year with a standardized opening day so Maine’s biggest industry – tourism – isn’t hurt by early school starts.

But most members of the Legislature’s Education Committee oppose the measure. So do the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association, which say local school districts should be free to decide for themselves when the school year starts.

The Maine Education Association, which represents teachers and other school employees, has taken no position on the bill.

Opponents say conditions vary from school district to school district, so it is important to maintain flexibility.

“It’s not a bad idea so much as it’s a local-control issue,” said Rep. Jacqueline Norton of Bangor, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee.

Eight members of the committee oppose the bill while five others support it, a close enough split to make the outcome too close to call when the House and Senate take up the bill. The House postponed action on the bill last week, but initial votes are likely this week.

No one knows exactly how many Maine public schools open their doors before Labor Day, but the number is thought to be growing. Valentino’s bill would not apply to Aroostook County, where schools traditionally open early so students can take time off later for the potato harvest.

Businesses that cater to tourists say they are often wanting for employees at the end of the summer when students return to school.

At Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, as many as 80 percent of the hundreds of high school kids who sign on for summer jobs quit before the holiday to hit the books, said marketing manager Ed Hodgdon. Sometimes a few rides close as a result, and if tourists leave unhappy “they’re not going to come back,” Hodgdon said.

Dale Douglass of the Maine School Management Association, the umbrella group for the associations of school boards and superintendents, said school calendars should be determined on the local level.

Delaying the start of the school year to accommodate the late-summer staffing needs of businesses “has the potential” of pushing back the close of the year in June, he said.

Bill supporters, however, say that could be avoided by cutting vacation time during the school year or by lengthening the school day.

Norton said businesses that are suffering because of an early start to the school year should take their case to the local school board.

Tourism promoters say that’s impractical because a business often hires teenagers from many towns, and outlying school districts have no reason to accommodate a business that isn’t located in their area.


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