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Present Tense: Dreaming of an extra long summer
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After our brief flirtation with spring, the temperatures are back in the 30s. But it's Wisconsin, and we Wisconsin folk are nothing if not optimistic: Summer will soon be here.

And sure enough, just as our thoughts turn to sunny afternoons and late sunsets and what's being offered at summer school this year, the issue of when to begin the school year rears its head. It's a debate perhaps older than the chicken vs. the egg: When to start the school year? Before or after Labor Day?

The debate has resurfaced with a bill to repeal the current law that forbids school districts from starting school before Sept. 1 without a waiver from the state Department of Public Instruction and to restore control over the start date to local districts. The law dates to 2000, backed by the state's tourism industry, which said it needs the teenage workforce to help keep all the restaurants, resorts, water parks and gas stations open for summer visitors. Without these workers, tourism-dependent businesses may have to close before the key Labor Day holiday weekend, the argument goes.

But on the flip side of the issue, many school administrators, especially in non-touristy areas (i.e., those of us "downstate" as our friends in the Northwoods would say) say starting the school year in September is too late. Many activities - especially sports and specifically football - has already started by mid-August, so it only makes sense to start school shortly after.

It's been a recurrent debate, with numerous failed attempts to repeal the law. Only time will tell if this version will gain the traction it needs to pass.

If you believe online polls (and please, take any online poll with a huge boulder of salt), the readership of the Monroe Times is split in a dead-heat over the issue of the pre- or post-Labor Day school start date. In our news poll last week, we asked: Do you think school should start before Labor Day? Yes answers totaled 114; nay votes were 115.

As for me, I favor restoring control to local school districts, but I'm also a hardcore after-Labor Day person.

It wasn't always that way: When I was growing up in Madison, we started school the week before Labor Day and wrapped up the year sometime around the first week of June.

And I liked that just fine because that was what I was used to.

Then I became a parent and things were a little different.

Monroe starts school the day after Labor Day and wraps up the year sometime in the second week of June.

And I like that a whole lot better.

I didn't at first. At first, when my kids were younger, the time between Aug. 1 and the Tuesday after Labor Day was an eternity. June and July were flush with activities for the kids - ball teams and summer camp and our annual week in the Northwoods and swimming lessons and summer school. And then everything came to a screeching halt and we were all left to stare at each other. And then came grumbling and whining. And then fighting. And then me swearing that Labor Day couldn't come soon enough.

But now my kids are older and I've learned to relish the rhythm of August. It is a month of last chances - time is dwindling to accomplish our summer to-do list: Visit Noah's Ark in the Dells (and the rates drop in August, an added bonus); spend the day at Devil's Lake (my favorite place from childhood and now one of my children's favorites); and squeeze in a trip to the mall (because with three girls, of course we must go to the mall.) Twice now, my family has taken a family vacation after mid-August and I loved it: Other families were already back in school while we were still reveling in the glory days of summer.

Sure, the school year extends a little longer into June. This year, we've had so many snow (ice, really) days, the Monroe school district, as of this week, was still determining when this year's last day will be. (According to its calendar, it looks like school will continue well into the second week of June.)

I'm OK with that. This is Wisconsin. I've seen snow in May. I've seen people wearing winter coats on Memorial Day weekend. With any luck, by the time June 1 rolls around, we can officially declare ourselves past the threat of another snow (or ice) day.

And then after the whirlwind of June and July, we'll have that long, glorious August to look forward to.

- Mary Jane Grenzow is editor of the Monroe Times. She can reached at Her column appears on Saturdays.