MOREHEAD CITY —
Empirical evidence indicates that North Carolina’s tourism revenues for the summer season of 2019 will be less than stellar, as the state’s recovery from Hurricane Florence has been a drawn out, creeping crawling process.
Pile on. While struggling to get back on its feet, coastal tourism recently took a swift kick in the shins, as a handful of local school districts jumped out of the starting gate early this year to begin their school years in the first two weeks of August.
Essentially, school administrators in those districts pulled the plug on summer fun, terminating summer vacations for who-knows-how-many families, a violation of state law. Or so it would appear.
What’s appalling is their total disregard for the amount of tourism dollars that went down the drain as a result. This seems to be a deliberate, direct assault by a group of school administrators who are attacking the school calendar law that mandates public schools shall open on the Monday closest to Aug. 26.
What is going on?
Credit Ann Doss Helms of WFAE 90.7, a National Public Radio outlet in Charlotte, for wading in, digging in and reporting on this important story on Aug. 16. Is an all out rebellion brewing?
Helms questioned N.C. Rep. D. Craig Horn, R-Union County, who is one of the chairs of the House Committee on Education K-12. He acknowledged that legislators and officials within the N.C. Department of Public Instruction had advance knowledge that some districts were planning to start school this year earlier than the law allows.
Choosing to let it slide or look the other way is dangerous policy that undermines the integrity of the General Assembly … and devours the summer vacation season.
Helms identified five districts that opened school early: Iredell-Statesville, Lincoln County, Anson County, Mooresville and Kannapolis City. Mooresville had the earliest school start date — Aug. 5.
Rep. Horn said there is a quirk or loophole that involves year-round schools, which are exempt from the Aug. 26 start date. He said the law doesn’t define what constitutes “year-round,” so officials from districts that started early claim their “optional summer school programs” technically qualify them as being “year-round.”
Helms also learned that the school calendar law doesn’t spell out a penalty for violators. Rep. Horn said state money provides most of the operating budget for public schools, and the state could use that money as leverage. He speculated that larger districts across the state have remained in line because they “can’t afford to take the chance that they would lose state funding.”
Earnest Winston, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, told Helms: “We’re going to continue on the path that we have been on, and that’s making sure we’re in full compliance with state law around the calendar process.”
However, Dr. Andrew Houlihan, superintendent of Union County Schools, recommended the legislature readdress the entire issue and grant calendar flexibility to all North Carolina schools.
Rep. Horn supports this concept and has sponsored legislation in the House to overthrow the school calendar law. Hence, he is unlikely to advocate penalties for the districts that chose to start school early.
Helms also reported that North Carolina’s elected state superintendent of schools Mark Johnson, a Republican, supports unrestricted school flexibility.
Political advocacy should not be in his job description. He should sit down and keep quiet. His job should have one focus — improving the quality of education in North Carolina, period.
Johnson would be wise to heed a lesson taught by Cathy Neagle, former chair of the Carteret County Board of Education. She always politely declined to be drawn into any debate on the school calendar law. She would preface her remarks with sparkling eyes and a wide smile … speaking words to this effect: “Whenever you send them to us, we will teach them.”
The local flexibility argument always comes around to the woes associated with having high school first semester examinations fall after the winter break in January. The easy fix is to start school in early August, the school people say, so exams are administered before the break. Malarkey.
Missing from this discussion is a lesson on the economics of tourism. That “class” is coming to this newspaper soon. Enrollment is open to all readers and only costs 75¢ an issue.
Web note: The Carteret County News-Times can be picked up from stands all over the county, or you can subscribe online.