Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania: Balancing Economy and Education

When the tradition to open Pennsylvania schools after Labor Day in 2013 and 2014 presented an opportunity for economic gain to the local tourism industry, the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau made sure its stakeholders recognized it.

The visitors bureau educated its community on issues in education, society, and labor, encouraging them to speak with school districts to avoid cutting the usual summer park season short, as the parks rely on significant staffing from local youth.

Labor Day Tradition

Historically, the school year in the Pocono Mountains region and throughout much of Pennsylvania did not start prior to Labor Day holiday when fell on September 1, 2, or 3. They would do so when it was on September 5, 6, or 7, schools would open prior to the holiday. And when the holiday fell on September 4, each school district could determine whether to begin classes before or after the holiday.

The years 2013 and 2014 presented an opportunity for the Pocono Mountains school districts to stay with this historic trend to start the school year after Labor Day. The holidays fell on September 1 and 2 respectively.

Seizing an Opportunity

Starting the school year early in Pennsylvania considerably affects the tourism economy on both the supply and demand side. The vast majority of workers that businesses including amusement parks and attractions, as well as hotels, restaurants, and event venues employ are school students and teachers during the summer. Tourism demand also suffers in general as less families willing or able to travel in the last week of August or even over the holiday when school has already begun.

Recognizing the opportunity to take advantage of the traditional post-Labor Day opening in 2013 and 2014, the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau began its campaign to educate its stakeholders on the issue as early as 2011, to uphold the traditional academic calendar while supporting the local economy.

“We have the leadership responsibility to advocate for policies that support our visitors, to educate our residents, and to encourage our elected officials to understand the value and significance of our industry to the triple bottom line — economic, social, and environmental,” said Carl Wilgus, former President & CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.

Adding Context to the Numbers

Understanding that convincing local school boards and superintendants to delay opening school doors would be difficult, the Bureau armed itself with state statistics on the footprint of the travel and tourism industry and how it relates to the very students and teachers the schools aim to serve.

For example, the organization-managed webpage on the issue explains that opening schools prior to the Labor Day holiday:

  • Has a $378 million negative economic impact on [Pennsylvania, in terms of] unrealized spending by residents and non-residents alike.
  • Costs 2,348 jobs.
  • Equates to a loss of $17.7 million in state tax revenue.
  • Leads to students and teachers losing $45.6 million due the inability to work a summer job during the last week of August, which includes bonuses often provided by employers for employees who work the entire summer season.

Leading the Charge

The destination organization leads a coalition of interested parties and had at the time of publication, successfully advocated for five school districts in Monroe County, Pennsylvania to adopt a post-Labor Day school opening. Wilgus and his team continues to inform the community and encourage residents to show their support on the issue to their school superintendents and boards.