Sacrifice for the greater good

April 24, 2013 

“Sometimes, for the greater good, sacrifices must be made.” While the author of this quote is unknown, politics has often demanded such sacrifice for a greater good in our society.

Our state is blessed with magnificent mountains, fabulous foothills and beautiful beaches that bring folks from across the country to vacation. In fact, tourism is one of the major contributors to the state’s economy, job market, and tax base. Six years ago, the legislature was confronted with such a question of sacrifice, for the greater good. In order to meet academic achievement demands (i.e. finish exams before Christmas, maximize teaching time before testing), locally elected school boards were starting school in early August. In 2002, the state’s tourism industry issued the Morse Report, which blamed increasingly early school start dates for declines in tourism, especially in the “lost month” of August. This report argued that earlier start dates were responsible for declining August hotel occupancy rates from 1997-2002, and that there was no corresponding increase in May occupancy rates to offset the lost revenue. When it was pointed out that the summer has only so many months, and that August gains would be offset by losses at Memorial Day and in May, the tourism industry responded:

“Decreased August tourist activity as schools start earlier is not off-set by increases in tourist activity in other summer months.” (Morse Report, 2002)

Based on the Morse Report projections, the state legislature asked school districts to sacrifice for the greater good. In 2007, the legislature passed the Uniform Start Date (USD) law forbidding schools from starting before the third Monday in August. While locally elected school board members disagreed at the time, they realized that the tourism industry not only provides jobs, but also the tax revenue needed to fund their schools. Educators, too, realized, that – for the greater good – they must make sacrifices, such “not finishing exams before Christmas Break,” “wasted ‘review’ in January,” “decreased teaching time before high-stakes testing,” etc.

Six years later, however, the Olde English Consortium (a non-profit in Chester) decided to study the original Morse Report predictions to see if starting school later actually increased the state’s tourism, as promised. Using the same methodology from the original Morse Report, the consortium compared May and August before and after the USD. But, since the country entered a recession in 2008, the OEC study also compared SC May & August tourism data (before and after USD) with the national average “teasing out” the natural decline due to the recession.

This 2013 OEC report concludes there was no substantive effect on state tourism numbers, as a result of the USD legislation. The Morse Report argued that earlier start dates were responsible for declining August hotel occupancy rates, and that there was no corresponding increase in May occupancy rates to offset the lost revenue. If this claim was true, the OEC believed it should have seen August occupancy rates increase since 2007 without an offsetting decline in May. In the five years since the introduction of the Uniform Start Date, the same data presented by tourism industry lobbyists has proven their projection did not bear out.

The August tourism boom predicted by the Morse Report has simply not taken shape. The occupancy data suggests that little correlation exists between school start dates and hotel occupancy in the summer months, and is a net negative. We believe that the start dates of schools have no bearing on the strength of the tourism industry and that elected school boards should make such decisions representing their community.

The OEC report also found that the USD negatively impacts occupancy rates in May more than it improves rates in August creating a net drag on the tourism industry. Before the introduction of the USD, May occupancy rates in S.C. lagged about 1.1 percent behind national figures. Since the USD went into effect, that gap has more than doubled to 2.62 percent.

Indeed, it is time for all of us to begin thinking about ways in which we might be able to “sacrifice, for the greater good.” Not only is this idea noble, but it can help us accomplish great things as a state. Having said this, however, once a sacrifice is made, it would be malpractice for our state legislature to continue such a legally mandated sacrifice, while not examining evidence to see if we are achieving what was promised. In this case, we are continuing to sacrifice not only student academic achievement, but also local citizens’ rights to decide when to start school in their communities. And now there is new evidence showing this sacrifice is for nothing. We are sacrificing our children and our local communities for nothing.

Recently, Representatives Pope, Moss, Felder, Norman, Long, Tallon, Cole, Allison, Delleney and Powers Norrell introduced a bill (H.3648) which would return this decision to locally elected officials. “The government is best which is closest to the people” – these words from Thomas Jefferson remind us that, unless there is proof of a greater good, we don’t need Columbia and Washington, D.C., making the decisions about our local communities…and our community’s children.

The Board Chairs from the Clover, Fairfield, Fort Mill, Lancaster, Newberry and York School Districts

Mack McCarter, Clover

Beth Reid, Fairfield

Patrick White, Fort Mill

Bobby Parker, Lancaster

Jody Hamm, Newberry

Shirley Harris, York

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