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‘School after Labor Day is now the law of the land in Maryland’

OCEAN CITY — Gov. Larry Hogan drew a proverbial line in the sand Wednesday, warning lawmakers they could find themselves out of a job if they oppose his executive order mandating schools start their instructional year after Labor Day.

Hogan signed the order mandating post-Labor Day school starts for all school systems in Maryland beginning in fall 2017, saying a majority of Marylanders want it.

The governor cited polls, including one conducted by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College that found 71 percent of those asked supported starting school after Labor Day. The governor said legislators seeking to thwart his executive order do so at their own peril.

“I would say if they do that, they’ll be standing with 12 percent of the people who oppose the idea and they’ll probably lose their jobs,” Hogan said.

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks Wednesday in Ocean City. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks Wednesday in Ocean City. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

The order requires systems to begin their instructional year after the holiday and end on June 15. School systems could seek a waiver to the order from the Maryland State Board of Education if they can show “compelling justification,” Hogan said.

Some opponents of the move are questioning whether such an order is legal. They hinted at potential lawsuits and legislative action to countermand it.

Hogan, a Republican, called the effort a common-sense idea and with his signature declared:

“School after Labor Day is now the law of the land in Maryland.”

Hogan issued the order just days before the start of the Labor Day weekend in Worcester County, the only jurisdiction in Maryland to start school after the holiday.

A bill that would have mandated the later start, sponsored by Sen. James Mathias, D-Eastern Shore, has died in committee in each of the last two years.

In a brief meeting with reporters following the announcement, Hogan said he was “positive” the order was legal and that he had sought legal counsel before signing it.

“There’s no legal argument (against it) whatsoever,” the governor said.

When asked if he would release the legal advice, the governor responded: “No.”

“This is not rocket science,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has taken the lead on the populist effort to push back the opening of schools. “They have to start after Labor Day and get out by the middle of June. In between, they can do anything they want with their schedules. They can move weeks around and there’s plenty of time to do it. Worcester County is already doing it seamlessly. The critics, I hope, will stop trying to undermine this wonderful piece of executive action.”

Franchot’s office has previously estimated that a later school start could bring $74 million in direct economic development impact, though some economists have suggested those figures could be optimistic and difficult to prove.

Opponents of later school start legislation are already gearing up to oppose Hogan’s move.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and vice chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said lawmakers are already seeking their own legal advice on the action. In addition to potential legislation to overturn the executive order, Pinsky said he has heard from some school systems that are considering legal action.

Pinsky’s committee has held hearings the last two years on Mathias’ bill. He said he favors local control when it comes to setting school calendars.

“To allow some business owners who cater to vacation to decide school policy for vacationers in Baltimore City and Baltimore County seems pretty patronizing,” Pinsky said. “There might be some civil rights issues, too.”

Among those, the senator said, is the provision in the order mandating that the 180-day school calendar end on June 15. He said that could shorten some spring and winter breaks and eliminate many paid professional days for teachers. It would also mean that school systems that might want to extend their calendars beyond the June 15 date to provide additional class time would be prohibited from doing so.

Pinsky also questioned a Republican governor for sidestepping the legislative process to flex his executive muscle, saying Republicans are usually “opposed to executive orders and for less government but this is big government by fiat.”

The order is being opposed by the association that represents the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which represents the 24 public schools boards in the state.

“MABE and local board members from across the state have historically joined forces in Annapolis to oppose a statewide mandate to start school after Labor Day,” said Warner Sumpter, president of the association and president of the Board of Education of Somerset County. “We have emphasized that first and foremost, school calendars support classroom instruction and student learning, and reflect the input of local communities.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat and longtime friend of Hogan’s, criticized the governor for the move, calling it an “extraordinary and legally questionable use of the Executive Order” and accusing him and Franchot, Democrat, of cozying up over the idea.

Miller, in a statement, said “it would have been more appropriate for the governor to sponsor this matter as an administration bill, which he has never done.  It would have required hard work on the part of the governor and most likely compromise working with education experts and local officials around the State to reach agreement on how the goal could best be accomplished without harming students’ educational attainment.

“Making a press show about this issue over a year in advance while holding hands with the state tax collector appears like political gamesmanship,” Miller said. “The education of our students is too important to play political games like this without any input from local superintendents, boards of education, and teachers.”


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One comment

  1. quinn@cqlawgroup.com

    I like Hogan. I voted for him and I think he’s great. However, he either needs to subsidize summer camp for two weeks for families or cut taxes again so that everyone gets a few hundred dollars back each year to pay for summer camp. I mean, if the schools won’t be open, they shouldn’t need the tax dollars, right?