Summer
camps and vacation spots beware: A state lawmaker introduced a bill Monday that
would allow Wisconsin schools to open before Sept. 1.

Current
law prohibits any institution from beginning fall semester classes before Sept.
1, with the exception of medical school classes and fourth-year veterinary medicine
school classes.

The
proposal would put more power into the hands of local school districts, Rep.
Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said, by allowing them to decide what day they will reopen
their doors.

"My bill
would let local school boards make that decision," Ott said.

Ott
drafted the legislation after a meeting with a school superintendent in his
district. From the meeting, Ott said, he gathered both athletic and academic
reasons to support his proposal.

"This was
a topic they brought up," Ott said. "In talking to the school superintendents,
they cited the fact that fall athletic teams are already practicing in August."

However,
Ott acknowledged athletic reasons alone would not have been sufficient to
propose the bill.

The
academic reasons for the proposal, he added, stem from annual national testing,
including Advanced Placement tests that take place every May.

"The
school superintendents felt that it's more beneficial for the students to have
the week of school before the tests than the week after in June," Ott said.

The
current ruling on the start date of schools was enacted as part of a previous
Wisconsin State budget. Ott said the provision was tossed into the budget
unbeknownst to many legislators who voted to pass the bill. 

"I’m sure
there were people who voted for that budget bill back in 1999 who didn’t even
know it was in there," Ott added.

While the
proposed bill has the support of the superintendents from the school system in
Ott’s district, he said the tourism industry does not support the proposal.

Michelle
Purta, general manager of Skyline Hotel and Suites in the Wisconsin Dells, is
among those who oppose the bill.

Purta
expressed concern for the implications the bill could have for her staff.

"Being a
seasonal business, if my teenagers go back early, I would be in a bit of a
tizzy trying to find a replacement," Purta said.

Ott said
if the proposal passes through committee, he hopes it will pass in time to go
into effect for the 2008-09 academic school year.

Patrick
Gasper, communications officer for the Department of Public Instruction, declined
comment.

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