Potato harvest break isn’t just a tradition
I understand how hard of a decision the harvest break is for the school board. It’s been said that the school board’s only responsibility is for the good of the students.
In reality, the school is part of the community and supported by the community. The point of education is for the system to educate students to flourish in their lives. If the students aren’t encouraged to connect with their community, we are destined to lose them to lives away from here.
I believe the school schedule proposal that Brandon Roope has presented is worth trying to implement. A little shorter district wide break, grouping teacher’s in-service days, and some excused absences may be enough to bring in the crop. I don’t think you completely understand how hard it is to get the amount of help needed to get the harvest in, especially when the economy is good and unemployment is low. I believe I have a typical Aroostook County potato farm and during harvest my labor force triples, which means for me, 5 employees turns to 15, while my neighboring farms are doing the same. To put that in perspective, that would be like the school district tripling its employees for just three weeks per year. There may be a few retirees available to help out like there are for the farmers but we all know it would be impossible to triple the workforce for such a short period of time, especially when all the other school districts need to triple their work force at the same time. I am not just referring to school districts and farms; this problem would be insurmountable for all our local business and services including electricians, plumbers, retailers, health care services, insurance companies, manufacturers, law enforcement, social services, etc. The only other industries that I can think of that would have similar challenges to spike staffing as the farmers would be summer tourism and maybe landscaping/yard work, but those industries have the luxury of the student’s summer break. Sadly, in northern Maine there aren’t many of these types of summer jobs for our students so the only seasonal work available to many kids is during the harvest recess. To look at this as an employee instead of an employer, it would be like your boss applying three times your normal workload for three weeks and if you fail to complete the work within that period your job will be lost. I know that some might suggest hiring migrant workers to replace the students but that just isn’t an option for such a short period of time. They aren’t interested unless it’s for a longer duration. Consider that potato farming in Maine is mostly concentrated in central Aroostook has farm gate sales of more than $150 million before any value added such as packaging or processing. This is the money that flows in from away to our communities for all of us to circulate.