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Universities Say Late School Start Could Cost Millions

By Rachel Mansour
Capital News Service
Wednesday, March 8, 2000

ANNAPOLIS - The University System of Maryland would have to cancel winter term, a $4.2 million loss, if legislation to push the first day of school past Labor Day wins approval from the General Assembly, officials testified Wednesday.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, created the bill to help tourist centers, such as Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake, which depend on student employees who return to school before the resort areas' busiest weekend.

If approved, Maryland would be the only state with such a law.

"I know the academics are going to come up here and say, 'How dare'," Bromwell said to the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. "But when you get down to Ocean City you see that those folks are having real problems."

But the University System of Maryland is hoping to avoid an "avalanche" of academic, administrative and financial disruption that such a mandate would cause, said Charles Middleton, system vice chancellor. In order to fulfill the required 15-week academic terms, state colleges and universities would have to hold final examinations after winter break if classes started after Labor Day. Middleton also said winter term would have to be cancelled, costing $4.2 million in tuition and room and board. Winter terms are very abbreviated, intense semesters less than a month long.

"Clearly our public colleges and universities do not start the academic year before Labor Day on a whim," he said, "but the larger good, in short, is served by a continuation of our current practices, which replicate those across the nation." To keep employees for the Labor Day holiday, Ocean City businesses promise student employees cash bonuses, said Ocean City Chamber of Commerce representative Dennis F. Rasmussen.

That usually doesn't work, he said, and "by mid-August you will see help- wanted signs in every restaurant and hotel in Ocean City."

Tight labor markets in the state and nation make the problem even worse. Maryland's jobless rate at January's end was 3.1 percent, a record low.

"Some might pooh-pooh this issue, but this is a serious dollar (issue)," Rasmussen said, referring to Ocean City's $1.5 billion tourist industry. The early school start forces families to cut summer vacations short, hurting tourist-dependent business, he said.

Businesses from Garrett County's Deep Creek Lake are also rooting for the bill.

William Meagher owns Lakeside Creamery, an ice cream retailer and wholesaler. He told legislators he loses a third of his workforce every August and about 10 days worth of revenue due to the reduced flow of family travelers.

Proponents are willing to work out a solution, said Thomas B. Stone Jr., lawyer for the Restaurant Association of Maryland: "I don't want to dissolve their winter term, but without being obnoxious about it we think an accommodation can be made."

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