Friday, November 02, 2007

Save Our Summers

In Idaho we used to have “spud break” in October. This was back when most potatoes were picked by hand or with limited machines, so kids were ostensibly off so they could help their parents. For those of us on ranches or dry farms though, it was just a vacation, and often we took family vacations. Now potato-picking is largely automated and only a county or two still have spud break.

I’m reminded of the hubbub now over “save our summers,” which is a plea by tourism interests in a growing number of states to prevent public schools from starting earlier than Labor Day. My friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist posted a great blog on the movement and provided some new research on the impact. While most people weighed in on this and began playing offense and defense without any information, Bill is one that has kept his eye on any valid substantiation.

But Bill knows I’ve been less than empathetic with the school start issue. It is true that nationwide 29% of leisure travel occurs in June, July and August (or 25% of the year). Bumping school start up a couple of weeks makes that more like 18-20%, but I have trouble with the notion of “lost” vacations. I have no doubt some are moved up and that revenues show then in July, which would have been in August. The problem may be one of workforce, but as difficult as it is nowadays for kids to get jobs at that age, even that needs deeper analysis. Maybe we’re talking more about kids in family businesses.

But my ambivalence is largely because I don’t think it’s a good idea for tourism officials to mess with school officials, unless we’re ready for that in return. This is a two-way street, and we might be trading chits for something even more valuable to tourism overall one day.

But I’ve also been reluctant because Durham is a cultural destination and frankly benefits from more leisure tourism in spring and fall. There are as many people drawn to cultural destinations are there are to beaches, mountains or theme parks. Some say that 80% of North Carolina’s tourism revenue now comes from cultural destinations. And in communities like Durham, year-round schools are increasingly popular, as families catch on to the benefits over traditional summer breaks. Maybe we should be more positive about this and promote more year-round schools, but then again, that wouldn’t benefit summer-only tourism. They actually benefit tourism interests by spreading the summer vacation season out over more of the year.

I guess my point is that school schedules need to revolve around local conditions, and one size doesn’t fit all. But posts like Bill’s also make the dialogue much more rational.


David said...

Reyn, My wife Louise started Save Our Summers NC ( because the Wake School board told her that they would keep squeezing the calendar toward their goal of system-wide modified year-round. We have family in other states that we visit with every summer, and it was getting to the point that would not be able to do that. You can say it was a tourism thing, but if you visit her site, particularly the "about" page ( you can read about how it was the 20,000+ NC parents that made it happen in the NC General Assembly in 2004.

Reyn said...

Thanks David. Here is a link to a more current blog on that topic