August 28. 2018 9:46PM

Sununu wants school to start after Labor Day

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader


A fleet of buses rolls out Tuesday, the first day of school at Bedford High School. Gov. Chris Sununu's “Save our Summers” initiative is aimed at preventing school districts from starting the school year before Labor Day. (DAVE LANE/UNION LEADER)

SALEM — As students in school districts across the state return to classrooms in the sweltering humidity of a late August heat wave, Gov. Chris Sununu is taking steps to prevent school districts from starting the school year before Labor Day, through an initiative he calls “Save our Summers.”

The governor visited Canobie Lake Park in Salem on Tuesday morning to sign an executive order creating the Save Our Summers Study Commission, with a mandate to report back with proposed legislation by November.

Sununu first expressed his preference for a school start after Labor Day in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader last year, just before Labor Day 2017.

“Every person I have talked to thinks this is a home run of an idea,” he said at the time, referring to conversations with parents, educators, administrators and students.

The 14-member study commission, with a chair appointed by Sununu, will include one state senator and two state representatives, along with representatives of the tourism industry, chambers of commerce, the public, teachers, administrators and school board members.

The commission will look at the impact of a later school start on the tourism and hospitality industry, academic performance, athletic programs, expenses, wages from summer jobs and internships and several other factors.

The state has a 180-day requirement for the school year, but it’s up to local school boards and their negotiations with unionized teachers to set the schedule. A later start could mean school continuing well into late June if several school days during the winter are cancelled because of bad weather.

According to the state Department of Education, school districts may have fewer than 180 days as long as they meet the required number of hours of instruction. Manchester uses the technique of adding minutes to each school day to comply with the state requirement.

The Manchester school district calendar for 2018-19 has K-12 starting on Sept. 5 (Labor Day is Sept. 3) and continuing until June 13. Nashua, on the other hand, starts on Aug. 28 with an anticipated last day of June 14.

In his executive order, Sununu notes that the majority of school districts in New Hampshire now start school before Labor Day.

Many adopted the earlier start after several years of more snow days than anticipated. Manchester had to add three days in June, even with the additional minutes per day, after city schools closed for seven days due to poor weather during the 2017-18 school year — in addition to two delayed openings and two early releases.

The executive order points out that the state regulates the school year, including the requirements for the number of school days per school year and the number of instruction hours per year.

“New Hampshire has an obligation to evaluate whether starting school after Labor Day would have a positive impact on academic performance due to an enhancement of other recreational and education opportunities that exist outside the formal school environment,” according to Sununu.

He lists many of the potential advantages of a post-Labor Day start, including a lengthening of the summer tourism season and the spending that goes with it, and calls for a “comprehensive review of all potential advantages and disadvantages of a post-Labor Day start date to allow complete and fair consideration of potential legislation.”

Matt Peters from Peters Farm in Salem made clear how important the change would be for him and his industry. The family farm has been locally owned and operated since 1911 and is currently run by three generations of the Peters family.

“Our workforce each summer is cut in half when school starts,” he said. “This is difficult for us as our farm stand gets very busy in the days before Labor Day, as people purchase items for their cookouts and family gatherings. So starting school before Labor Day does impact agriculture. I appreciate that the governor has asked this task force to consider agriculture in its deliberations.”

Sununu was joined at the “Saving our Summers” announcement by Canobie Lake Park employees, legislators, farmers, school officials and representatives from the New England Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

dsolomon@unionleader.com