- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2012

Listen up, Maryland public schools — state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot has a bone to pick with you.

Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, kicked off a campaign last week urging schools not to start their academic years until after Labor Day in order to help increase revenue for some of the state’s popular tourist spots.

At a Board of Public Works meeting, the outspoken comptroller lamented how school districts in recent years have asked students and teachers to report earlier. The start of school has been pushed up from around Labor Day to a full one or two weeks before the first Monday in September.

Schoolchildren may not have been thrilled with this development, but Mr. Franchot said the biggest losers might be business owners in tourist-heavy areas such as Ocean City, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or Western Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake whose busy seasons seem to get shorter every year.

“Losing the last seven to 10 days in August is a huge hit and very often means the difference between staying open and having to close up shop,” he said.

The comptroller said schools delaying their start until after Labor Day could bring businesses millions of dollars more in revenue. Oh yeah, it might help state and local tax coffers, too.

He suggested that schools could start later but still end in early to mid-June if they shorten winter and spring breaks or eliminate some off days during the year.

Mr. Franchot said he will push for legislation forcing a change — perhaps something similar to Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law,” which requires schools to request waivers if they want to open before Labor Day.

Mr. Franchot and other state officials often heap praise on Maryland’s schools — which Education Week has named the nation’s best for four years in a row — but this isn’t the first time he has offered some criticism, too.

Earlier this year, he railed against Baltimore County’s school system after finding out that only about half of its 173 public schools have air conditioning, which he characterized as a health hazard for students in the academic year’s early and late months.

With Mr. Franchot rumored as a possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate, these initiatives certainly could earn him some points with high school students, who will soon be old enough to cast ballots.

Perhaps a call to ban homework on Fridays or improve cafeteria food would put him over the top.

Fuzzy math

When you’re dealing with more than 100 bills in one day, numbers start to blend together. At least they did for Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, during Wednesday’s “veto session” when the House and Senate acted on Gov. Bob McDonnell‘s vetoes and more than 100 proposed amendments.

The House of Delegates initially failed to override a veto from Mr. McDonnell on a bill introduced by Delegate Mark D. Sickles, Fairfax Democrat, that would increase the penalty on residents who fail to display Virginia license plates.

Or so Mr. Howell thought.

To override a veto, a positive vote from two-thirds of “members present” in both chambers is required. When the House voted 64-31 to override it, Mr. Howell declared the veto sustained.

Wait a minute, some said, 64 votes out of 95 members present is more than two-thirds (67.4 percent, to be more precise).

“I apologize,” Mr. Howell said. “I think I’ve got to get a new calculator.”

(The fuzzy math was rendered moot later in the day when the 40-member Senate couldn’t muster the 27 votes to override the veto, so it ended up standing.)

Later, when splitting up a series of amendments to a bill on voter identification into blocks, Mr. Howell once again was corrected — this time by Delegate Mark L. Cole, Spotsylvania Republican, on the number of separate blocks that were up for vote.

Mr. Howell blamed that snafu on “the same guy that gave me the number on how many people equal two-thirds.”

“I tell you, you just don’t get help these days like you used to,” he said.

David Hill and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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