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Later school openings begin in 2014

JACKSON (AP) — Many Mississippi public school students are starting class this week, but they won’t be starting this early next year.

That’s because the Mississippi Legislature passed a law in 2012 that says public school districts can start no earlier than the third Monday in August. In any given year, that day can fall somewhere between Aug. 15 and Aug 21. Next year it will be Aug. 18.

The law, similar to those passed in other states, is meant to boost tourism spending by encouraging a longer summer. The Gulf Coast Business Council, a Gulfport-based business group, helped push through the law. A 2010 council study predicted later school openings would raise Mississippi tourism spending by $100 million, as well as create another $40 million in indirect benefits.

“The tourism revenue in August used to be really, really strong, but now there’s a complete drop-off,” said council President Jack Norris.

However, some districts may extend schedules into June, cutting into the beginning of summer vacation. Legally, Mississippi districts must still provide 180 days of instruction, meaning the only other way to comply is to cut holidays during the school year.

The Gulfport district made the change this year and won’t start until Aug. 19. School will run through May 31, the Friday after Memorial Day.

Superintendent Glenn East said the district combined a number of changes this year to try to reduce disruptions in fall 2014.

“We wanted to go ahead and get these changes out of the way so we could get some level of normalcy,” East said.

One reason schools have opened earlier was to teach as many days as possible before May’s state tests. The state moved test dates back a week from 2012 to 2013, which could help later start dates.

Don Hinton, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, said fall athletic and activity schedules have also been pushed back a week beginning this school year. For example, football champions won’t be crowned until early December.

Hinton said that he believes athletes will benefit from one week’s less exposure to the heat of August.

One drawback: Teachers may not work the required 15 days in August to get a full paycheck. East said Gulfport’s teachers will work enough this year, but that may not be true in years that schools start Aug. 21, such as 2017.

“All the teachers in the state of Mississippi are really going to be upset because they won’t work enough to get a full check,” said DeSoto County Superintendent Milton Kuykendall.

Paychecks would be redistributed over other months, he said, unless legislators change the law.

Starting later also means schools are likely to have fewer days before Christmas than after. The first semester could extend into January.

This year, Gulfport will have 83 days before Christmas and 97 after.

Kuykendall said DeSoto was likely to cut holidays during the year so that teachers would still be able to attend summer classes at universities. But he predicts many districts will schedule into June. “If we just move August to June, a lot of people take vacation in June,” he said.

Norris said that’s not the law’s intent and urged districts to cut holidays during the year.

“It’s unnecessary,” Norris said.

 

 

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