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Local control: More than lip service

It's time for state Republicans, who control the executive and legislative branches, to follow through on rhetoric touting local government control. Lawmakers can turn rhetoric into political reality.

School boards have passed resolutions asking to be allowed to decide when to start the new school year. Such local decision-making was removed during the fourth term of Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's tenure.

The 2000 law says public schools can't start the year before Sept. 1. It wasn't passed to improve the quality of public education but to appease tourism lobbyists.

Some area school districts like River Falls want to regain local control. That wish should be given.

River Falls School Superintendent Jamie Benson summed it up best in last week's River Falls Journal: “The main idea is that we don't need people in Madison telling us when we can start a new school year … . If Wisconsin Dells or Door County school districts need to keep students out of school to work at their water parks and restaurants, I get it … but that is not a local need here in River Falls.”

The essence of the River Falls resolution reads: “Local control by elected school board members is always the preferred governance model in the school district of River Falls.”

As Benson said, some school districts, based on their constituents' wishes, may decide to keep the school year starting at Sept. 1 or later. If that works, if that's what the locals want, that should be their prerogative.

The point: They decide, locally, rather than a one-size-fits-all Madison decision.

In River Falls, an earlier school year start would likely mean a few days in the last week of August. The slightly earlier starting date is said to give the district more calendar-year flexibility and “other considerations which best serve students.”

On the other hand, if our school board gets enough pushback opposing an earlier school-year start, it may stick with Sept. 1 or later. But then, that's a decision made locally.

Our area state legislators need to get this one right. Return local control of public school start dates to where it belongs — the people of each school district.