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LUHS board rejects early school start

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MINOCQUA – An administration proposal to start the 2022-23 school year two days early at Lakeland Union High School fell by the wayside Monday, when no school board member offered to make a motion to that effect.

The administration sought board approval of a resolution asking the state Department of Public Instruction for a one-year exemption from a state law that requires public school districts to start school no earlier than Sept. 1 of each year.

The law was passed some 20 years ago after the tourism and lodging industries lobbied for it, citing the need for younger employees and fearful of a shorter summer vacation for families.

The state agency has approved a handful of such requests the past couple of years, mostly tied to building construction issues.

The LUHS administration wanted new students to start on Tuesday, Aug. 30 and all students the following day. Much of the rationale centered on disruptions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic the past 19 months. The proposed resolution said an early start “is an essential strategy that will benefit our student’s social, emotional, and academic growth…(and) build student learning momentum earlier in the school year.”

However, during the required public hearing held at the meeting start, the board heard opposition from the Let’s Minocqua chamber executive director and three business representatives.

Chamber executive director Krystal Westfahl said local businesses are struggling to find sufficient help. Some tourism-dependent businesses also rely on foreign workers, who, themselves are finding it harder to get the required work visa. She also wondered if this would be “a slippery slope” in the future with Lakeland, and others, starting school even earlier.

Christie Terkelson, of Northfork Fin & Filet, spoke against the measure. “Not only are we already struggling to get adults from our local adult workforce to work, but we really struggle to get students with all their extra-curricular activities.” In addition to earning money, students learn time management and budgeting by being in the workforce, she said.

Jim Wescott, of Minocqua Popcorn, said high school students are needed for the busy Labor Day weekend and the days leading up to it. Compounding the labor shortage is the fact that college students already have returned to school by that time, he added.

Board member Pam Carroll noted that the Lakeland area is the number two destination area in Wisconsin. “Our area was built on tourism,” she said.

Fellow board member Shawn Umland agreed: “You need everyone on deck to help out.”

Board member Shari Nimsgern noted last year, the school issued nearly 50 work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds alone. (Those 16 years of age don’t need work permits, she added.) An early start would adversely affect the local small businesses, she asserted.

Even if a motion had been offered, it was doomed to be voted down. Board members Heidi Fink and Barb Peck also opposed the measure. In the end, despite board president’s twice-repeated call for a motion, no one on the nine-member board offered one.