Bills Could Allow Schools to Start Earlier

Matching bills in the state Senate and Assembly could allow school districts to start before Sept. 1, despite the tourism industry’s fight to keep the current date.

“From an economic standpoint, the tax revenue that can be generated in that last couple weeks of August, when there currently isn’t school for k-12, certainly is increased just for that two- or three-week period,” said Jon Jarosh, communications director of the Door County Visitor Bureau. “Having that law changed or repealed could have an impact on any kind of tax revenue coming into the county, whether it be room tax or sales tax.”

In 2000, Sept. 1 was declared the first day Wisconsin public schools could start the year. That kept high school kids working through the Labor Day weekend and gave families more flexibility to plan last-minute vacations.

That restriction had an effect on Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, according to general manager Sarah Martin.

“As restaurant owners and business people in the tourism field we’re definitely in favor of having the start date Sept. 1 or later, especially for us with the majority of our staff being high school and college kids,” Martin said. “We count on our staff to be available for then.”

Martin remembers when the start date restriction first took effect, and said it changed Wilson’s summer season.

“It definitely pushed back that [early] part of the season but we stayed busy a lot longer into August,” she said. “To have people available to come on vacation longer in August is a better thing because usually the weather’s better in August than it is in June… When the whole state shifted to that we definitely saw a shift in how busy we were in certain times.”

Many in the education field say allowing school districts to choose their own start date is good, and would give more control back to small communities. Sturgeon Bay School District Superintendent Joe Stutting said he’d like to see the Sept. 1 date repealed, even though his district wouldn’t choose to start earlier.

“We traditionally have always started the Tuesday after Labor Day just because of who we are and where we’re located,” Stutting said.

Door County school districts understand that their students and teachers are an important part of the local workforce, and it would be a burden on businesses if school started before the last big summer weekend. Still, Stutting said the decision on when to start should be decided by individual school boards elected in Wisconsin communities, not dictated by the state.

“When we can start schools is one of the ways the state takes away the control from the local school districts that are elected by their local citizens,” he said.

The assembly bill is currently in the Assembly Committee on Tourism, which is vice-chaired by Representative Garey Bies of Sister Bay. Bies hasn’t heard when the committee will meet to discuss the bill, but said he doesn’t support it.

“I don’t care for it,” Bies said. “Tourism is a vital industry to the state and going back to the other way, we’re just going to cut it shorter yet and sometimes those last couple weeks in the month of August can make or break a business that’s having a tough year.”