Bill could allow schools to begin year before September 1

Tourism industry worries it could impact business

Bill could allow schools to begin...

LA CROSSE CO., WIs. - A new bill proposed in the Wisconsin legislature could change when school districts are allowed to begin the school year.

But some in the tourism industry worry it could hurt businesses.

It's a debate that has been going on for years.

Currently, school districts in Wisconsin are not allowed by law to begin the school year before Sept. 1.

But a bill proposed by Republicans Jim Ott and Alberta Darling are looking to repeal that law. They have introduced the bill several times.

But those in the tourism industry have said the change could impact some of the busiest times of the year.
Troy Gunderson is the superintendent at West Salem. He said the current law puts school districts in a tough spot.

"We have a little bit of that cultural issue where if June rolls around, we shouldn't be in school,” Gunderson said. “It compels you to compress the school year as best we can."

Gunderson said any schedule flexibility, such as beginning the school year in August, could help in the classroom.

"Let's say we start a little bit sooner, and after nine weeks we did some of our RTI, some of our testing, some of our measuring of kids, and we stop and spread that out for a week,” Gunderson said. “We could design the school year to better improve practice from teachers and performance by kids."

But tourism officials said August is prime time for families to travel.

"August really lends itself to warming weather,” said A.J. Frels, the executive director for the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The modern family trend is that families want to vacation in August, and particularly, late August."

According to numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism,  in 2015 visitors spent $130 million more in August in the state than in June.

That "generated $10 million in local and state taxes,” Frels said.

And they worry any changes to the school calendar could impact La Crosse's economy.

"That impact would spread throughout the hotels, the restaurants, our local businesses,” Frels said.

But Gunderson said many students are already back in school come August.

"We have 350 kids involved in co-curricular stuff where they are coming to practice on the third of August,” Gunderson said. “Their families aren't able to travel all over because they are connected to school already."

Gunderson said above all, the change would bring more power back to local communities.

"We could set this up the way we wanted to -- what's best for our kids,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson also mentioned that more flexibility to the school calendar would allow AP classes more time in the classroom before exams in May.

Tourism officials are also concerned about losing employers losing labor like high school students at the end of the month as well.

With snow days added on to this year's schedule, West Salem is supposed to have their last school day June 9.

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