Despite pleas, school year will begin before Labor Day
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Robert Coleman, West End Fair Association's assistant treasurer, makes another plea for a Pleasant Valley School District post Labor Day opening, bringing with him 12 members of the WEF board for support, at the Pleasant Valley School District board of directors' meeting.
After several public pleas to Pleasant Valley Area School District's board of directors for a post Labor Day opening of school, the West End Fair Association and the Coalition for a Post Labor Day Opening gave it the old college try one more time at the March 22 board of directors meeting. They were shot down with the answer of "No" to a 2012-2013 school opening after Labor Day with a vote of 6-3. Tom Murphy, Harvey Frable, MiChelle Palmer, H. Charles Hoffman, Russ Gould, Sue Kresge voted "no." Dominic Sacci, James Spinola and Steve Borger voted "yes."
Before that vote, WEF assistant treasurer Robert Coleman introduced 12 other WEF board members that attended the meeting with him and then told the board that a post-Labor Day school opening would be very important to the economy.
"The West End Fair requires a lot of time of Pleasant Valley students and 4H Club members from cleaning up after their animals they have entered in the fair to cleaning up the parking lot and park midway. A problem is that a lot of parents don't want their children to miss school but want their children to participate in the fair," Coleman said.
Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (PMVB) addressed the board also. He said that "Pennsylvania is losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars by not moving to a post Labor Day school opening, compounded by the fact that nearly $50 million in wages for students and teachers is being lost as well as nearly $20 million in state taxes and up to $100 million in additional energy costs for school districts throughout the Commonwealth. All these points are indisputable and confirmed by research conducted in other states."
He cited the disruption of traditional August vacation time as a negative social impact and another concern of public safety.
"When you have 170,000 fair goers traveling in anywhere between 50,000-60,000 additional vehicles intersecting and mingling with thousand of school students, especially during that first week of school as everyone is developing their routine, I can only categorize it as a prescription for disaster."
He said he had been working with Sgt. Sean Jennings of the PA State Police, who provided him with 2007-2011 data for those same weeks.
"The numbers don't lie. When the Fair and opening of the school year coincide, accidents go up. It is just simply a factor of more vehicles on the road at the same time. In the last three years, as many as 101 incidents have been recorded during that last week of August when the Fair and school opening coincides. That number drops down into the high 50s for the week after Labor Day when traffic patterns return to a more normal level."
He asked, "Is having a pre Labor Day school opening worth the downside risk?"
He told the board that the night before, March 21, Stroudsburg Area School District voted 6-3, approving a post Labor Day opening, making two school districts in Monroe County to do so, Pocono Mountain is the other. He said that the Monroe County Technical Institute would not begin classes until all four districts in the county were back in session.
"Should you choose to continue with a pre-Labor Day opening, you are going to have to find someplace to park nearly 250 high school students for the first four afternoons of the school year because MCTI will not be in session.
Wilgus suggested that decisions can be changed, giving examples of a recent decision reversal made by the Susan B. Komen Foundation and the Dwight Eisenhower Memorial proposed sculpture in Washington D.C. was changed from a barefoot boy to a Commander in Chief.
He urged the board to "do the right thing."
Board director Dominic Sacci made a motion to initiate the rescinding of the pre-Labor Day school opening that had been approved at the Feb. 9, 2012 board meeting.
"In light of the several emails, phone calls and feed back from the community, it would behoove us to not reopen this for another vote," said Sacci.
Board director James Spinola seconded the motion.
Board director Russ Gould said this was a difficult decision with good points made on both sides of the issue.
"I just know my kids don't want to be in school in June. I would like to see a committee be put together to sit down and talk about it. But I won't change my vote."
Board director Steve Borger said he voted for the post Labor Day opening.
"For me, it's a tradition not to have to go to school until after Labor Day."
PVSD board president Tom Murphy said, "We met with the West End Fair board on Sunday and learned a lot about how the early school opening affects the community. But our schools already have things in place for the 2012-2013 school year. We are willing to sit down with the Coalition and discuss the possibilities of a post Labor Day opening for the 2013-2014 school year."
During the meeting's time for school directors comments, director Susan Kresge said that she would like to see the district and West End Fair Association work together for the next year.
"I wish you would have come to us sooner," she said.
President Murphy said that the board did check with MCTI and even with Pocono Mountain and Stroudsburg districts starting school after Labor Day, MCTI will be in session the week before, for East Stroudsburg and Pleasant Valley students.
After the meeting, a skeptical Wilgus said that the board's comments about wanting to work with the Coalition and WEF for the 2013-2014 school year for a post Labor Day opening, "sounds good, but what could change by the next year?"