Comptroller May Seek Executive Order for Post-Labor Day School Start

Comptroller May Seek Executive Order for Post-Labor Day School Start

Peter Franchot, blocked in legislature, may appeal to governor

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Comptroller Peter Franchot

Official photo

A statewide legislative initiative to mandate that annual school openings take place after Labor Day—promoted by Comptroller Peter Franchot but opposed by both the Montgomery County Board of Education and the county teachers’ union—appears stalled as the clock winds down on this year’s legislative session in Annapolis.

But Franchot, a Takoma Park resident, late last week raised the prospect of asking Gov. Larry Hogan to institute such a change through executive fiat if the bill does not win approval this year. Contending that the proposal would provide “a significant boost to the state’s economy,” Franchot—during an interview televised last week on Montgomery Community Media— declared, “If it doesn’t pass legislatively, maybe I’ll have a conversation with Gov. Hogan about doing it through executive order.” Hogan earlier this year signed a petition— on which Franchot collected a total of 13,000 signatures—supporting the plan for an annual post-Labor Day start of the school year.

But it was not immediately clear whether Hogan, a Republican who has gone out of his way to court Democrat Franchot politically, might entertain making such a change through executive order. A spokeswoman for the governor, Shareese Churchill, declined comment Monday on the matter pending the conclusion of this year’s General Assembly session.

Meanwhile, Franchot, defending his post-Labor Day school opening plan in last week’s televised interview, said the proposal’s legislative fate this year remains “unclear.” But two weeks after the General Assembly’s “crossover” deadline—by which time a bill must have been voted upon in at least one house to have a reasonable chance of passage—there has been no action on the measure in either of the two legislative chambers. (No Montgomery County legislators have co-sponsored either the House or Senate versions of the bill; the Senate sponsor, Democrat James Mathias, represents a district that includes the tourist destination of Ocean City.)

“It has enormous popular support,” declared Franchot, pointing to a Goucher College poll that showed 72 percent of respondents favoring the proposal statewide, with that backing cutting across demographic and geographic lines. He contended it would be beneficial to families’ “quality of life” by allowing them to schedule summers without worrying about the school calendar.

While Franchot pointedly suggested that “rank and file teachers like starting school after Labor Day, [because] they get a full summer also,” his plan has run into a wall of opposition from  school boards around the state—which see it as usurping local powers—as well as from teachers’ groups.

The Montgomery County Education Association last fall took aim at the proposal put forth by Franchot, who represented the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area in the General Assembly for two decades before becoming comptroller. “….Many educators are concerned that a later start time to the school year would mean less instructional time before mandated statewide standardized tests, as well as an extension of the school year into late June,” the MCEA said in a statement as the group’s representative assembly adopted a resolution opposing the post-Labor Day mandate.

The Montgomery County Board of Education included opposition to the post-Labor Day start in its 2015 legislative agenda, with board President Patricia O’Neill declaring: “Let’s be clear: The comptroller’s efforts are not about education and are not about helping children. It is entirely about boosting the state’s tourism industry. While my board colleagues and I certainly support tourism in our state, it should not drive educational decisions.”

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