Keep local control of school calendars

There is a lot the General Assembly can do to improve education for Kentucky's children.

Legislators could take on tax reform to provide adequate, predictable funding for public schools; they could fund the teacher retirement system so that people who choose that career can focus on kids instead of worrying about their own futures; they could rely on solid research rather than political pandering when making decisions about curricula and testing. That's just for starters.

One thing legislators don't need to do is micro-manage the calendars of Kentucky's 173 public school districts, as Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and state Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset propose.

That also was the message from the board of directors of the Kentucky School Boards Association at its regular meeting over the weekend, in response to Thayer's and Girdler's proposal to block schools from starting classes before late August.

The school board members believe local district officials and board members are best situated to set their own calendars. Things like weather, vacations, schedules for statewide testing and a strong preference by parents and teachers to end before Memorial Day all affect when the school year starts.

While the two senators have gussied up the proposal with rhetoric about student achievement and saving energy (nice that Republicans in the General Assembly are into conservation), the real motivation behind this is to provide cheap labor and customers for water attractions, including a pricey water park owned by the city of Somerset.

A recent examination of Somerset's finances by the state auditor's office found the city water park had lost more than $1 million in the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years and that the city failed to pay the water-park manager for thousands of dollars of overtime in violation of the law. It's that business that suffers when schools start early, depriving it of both customers and employees.

"Why should we turn away out-of-state tourists from a water park in August when the outdoor thermometer still reads 90 degrees?" Thayer and Girdler asked in a statement promoting the legislation.

To assure a quality education for Kentucky children, says Kentucky School Boards Association president Allen Kennedy, a member of the Hancock County school board. "This isn't about getting two more weeks on summer jobs for our children," he said. "It's about what's best to prepare them for the careers of the rest of their lives."

Well said.