Some in the business community are calling for a later school start date for Cobb Schools because of how it could impact the economy, student summer jobs and family vacations.
The school board tonight will consider approving school calendars for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. The group will examine two choices for each school year and versions vary depending on school start dates and whether there are fall or winter breaks in September, October and February.
Cobb Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Connell said he “appreciates” the debate of traditional versus balanced calendar and understands whichever calendar is chosen should ensure that all students are provided the best educational opportunities.
But because the chamber represents businesses, he believes it’s important for the board to recognize in its decision that tourism in Georgia is a $51.2 billion industry and is the No. 1 industry in Cobb’s economy.
“We believe understanding those dynamics and realizing the number of businesses in our community that support and are supported by tourism should be a factor when setting the school calendar,” Connell said. “It is especially important if the calendar being considered includes an earlier school start date.”
Connell said since the education SPLOST that funds capital improvements for the school district is directly tied to sales tax revenue, it may be prudent for the school board to consider delaying the vote on the school calendar until more data on the potential economic impact of an earlier school start date can be determined.
Lindsey Burruss, spokesperson with Cobb Travel and Tourism, said her organization “conservatively” estimates that a one-week earlier start to the school year would carve nearly $21 million from Cobb’s travel and tourism industry.
This would mean about $210,000 less in SPLOST collections for the school system during that one-week period, Burruss said.
The school calendar came up at Cobb Travel & Tourism’s Tuesday board meeting.
“I guess my big concerns are, competitively, when you hear that every state in the Southeast, states that surround us, that we compete with, the tournaments and so forth, have more traditional later starts,” said Al Martin, a manager with Georgia Power who chairs the tourism board. “The other thing that’s interesting to me is if you consider the fact that the SPLOST that was passed to benefit schools, because travel and tourism is the largest industry in Cobb, you could assume that the most collections of sales tax come from travel and tourism, and if you’re shortening or impacting travel and tourism, that’s going to impact the SPLOST revenue. I think that would be another concern.”
Tourism board member Beth Lanser with Embassy Suites at Kennesaw Town Center, said the argument against starting school later, and having fewer breaks, is that students don’t retain what they’re taught during a long summer.
“But for me, not just from my aspect in my business, but as a parent, all those breaks do not help my kids because they just get into it, they’re in school for six weeks and they have a break,” Lanser said.
Cobb businesses prefer later start date
Park officials at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell and White Water in Marietta say their sales and attendance numbers are impacted by earlier school start dates.
Spokesperson Emily Murray said in an email that a later school start date is more accommodating for family vacations and students, who make up approximately half of the two parks’ workforce.
This past season, Six Flags employed about 1,680 at its Austell park and another 680 at White Water.
Six Flags and White Water are open every weekend in March, April and May and daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“(A later start date can also) achieve greater calendar alignment with surrounding counties without compromising the number of instructional days in the classroom,” Murray said.
The water and theme parks had an economic impact of $175 million for its 2012 season, according to Cobb Travel and Tourism. Murray declined to give details on how ticket sales are impacted by the range of start dates.
The company broke ground last week on its largest expansion in park history with the addition of Hurricane Harbor, a water park being built on the Six Flags property that is scheduled to open in May 2014.
Multi-billion dollar corporations like Six Flags aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch.
Mike Cotter, CEO of Atlanta-based Dynamo Pool Management, said his company, which hires about 300 high school and college students each summer to lifeguard at subdivision pools, many of which are in east Cobb, had to learn to deal with the change.
“Some of these subdivision pools stay open through Labor Day,” he said. “So, when schools start back earlier, students may get involved in extracurricular activities, which limits their ability to work at all or their hours.”
Cotter said his company hasn’t lost any money, but he has had to hire a second wave of lifeguards mid-summer the last few years because of the earlier start dates.
“We have been able to hire the staff to fill the hours that our customers are wanting but it does make it more difficult,” he said.
Board vote could be split
Going into Thursday night’s meeting, the board is potentially looking at a split vote.
Board Chair Randy Scamihorn, Vice Chair Brad Wheeler and northeast Cobb board member David Banks said they prefer Version B, or the calendar choices with more week-long breaks throughout the year and an earlier start date.
David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, and north Cobb board member Kathleen Angelucci declined to say which calendar they prefer until after tonight’s board discussion and southeast Cobb board member Tim Stultz said neither calendar is ideal for him.
Board member Scott Sweeney, who represents east Cobb, did not return phone calls or emails before press time Wednesday.
“B looks better … I don’t have a specific reason,” Scamihorn said. “I’ve heard it’s 40 to 1 for option B. The teachers, parents, like the breaks.”
Banks said he has preferred Version B since joining the board in 2009.
“It’s what 75 percent of the school families want, what the teachers want,” he said. “I got e-mails, most of them are supporting the B option. The majority of people want an earlier start with two breaks during the year.”
In an email, Stultz said neither calendar version is ideal to him because school still starts earlier than it should in both options.
“The lesser of two evils would be option A because it includes later start dates and a February break during the second year,” he said.
Stultz also said he still thinks spring break should coincide with Easter to allow families to travel for the holiday.
John Adams, co-founder of the teacher advocacy group EducatorsFirst, said his organization’s members prefer options B.
They surveyed teachers last year to see where they stood on the calendar and that more than 75 percent “overwhelmingly supported longer breaks in the fall and the winter, and an earlier start date.”
Adams said that teachers told him that breaks in the semester help to recharge them, and their students, and to help with the discipline of the students.
He also said teachers are “excited to see the board considering the two calendars.”
Tonight’s board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. with public comments. It will be held in the central office boardroom at 514 Glover St. in Marietta.