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Local officials disappointed by defeat of pre-Labor Day school start

ST. PAUL -- Rural lawmakers with resorts in their areas handed the first defeat to an attempt to allow school districts to start classes before Labor Day.

The bill failed Monday morning in a 13-11 House Finance Committee vote. However, no bill is ever truly dead until the Legislature adjourns. It could reappear in some other way, possibly as an amendment to another education proposal.

The bill by Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, would have allowed school districts to start classes before Labor Day in the next two years because the holiday comes so late. Labor Day this year is Sept. 7, the latest it can be.

The committee's decision is disappointing, area superintendents said Monday afternoon.

Benson Superintendent Lee Westrum said he thought issues like tourism and the State Fair should not influence education decisions.

"It really should be up to the local districts to set their calendars," said Litchfield Superintendent Bill Wold.

Litchfield has held off on developing its calendar, to see if the Legislature would let schools start earlier, he said. However, Monday's vote is probably a message to school districts that they should get them done and plan to start after Labor Day, he added.

Wold and Westrum said they do not hear from local businesses about delaying the start of school.

State Fair trips for area 4-H members could be an issue with a pre-Labor Day start, Westrum said.

However, the district could find a way to deal with those absences, which would be excused, he said.

The Benson School Board adopted two calendars for the next school year, one starting before Labor Day and one starting after. However, the one that starts after Labor Day is "very tight," with shorter breaks, Westrum said.

Legislators cited the economy in their opposition to the early start.

"This isn't the right time to do it," Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said, adding the economy already is hurting many small, rural businesses. "We don't need to lose any more businesses."

Rukavina, who has no resorts in his district, said the move would have a devastating effect in rural areas.

Norton said school would run into mid-June for many districts if the existing post-Labor Day start law was allowed to continue.

"Developing a school calendar is very difficult given the parameters they have to work under," Norton said. "It is time that we allow school districts the flexibility to set their own calendar."

Norton said the law "micromanages school districts" and "caters to a specific industry."

Norton's measure would not require schools to start early, which she said allows districts with resorts to start after Labor Day.

However, GOP Rep. Larry Howes of Walker, from a resort-heavy area, said small resorts would lose a lot of money because students who live in areas with an early start would not be able to go to resorts.

And students who work in resorts may have to quit their summer jobs a week or 10 days early.

"With economy the way it is, it is not the time to roll dice," Howes said.