Little Orleans area parents express gratitude for WCPS arrangement

Families await Allegany County schools decision on whether their children will be moved

April 16, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Little Orleans resident Brenda Castle thanked Washington County Board of Education members for all they have done to help her three Hancock Middle School/High School students be their best and hoped the county would continue to let students from Little Orleans attend Hancock.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

A couple of moms from Allegany County, Md., cried last week as they told the Washington County Board of Education how grateful they were their children were able to attend Washington County Public Schools and hoped the arrangement would continue.

School officials in Allegany County are considering ending an agreement that allows children from the Little Orleans area, in eastern Allegany County, to attend Hancock Middle-Senior High School, in neighboring western Washington County, rather than go to school in the more distant Cumberland, Md.

At least one of the 50 students attends Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown.

Parent Linda Martin told the school board Tuesday that "our kids have had a myriad of symptoms of anxiety from tears to tummy aches in the last couple of weeks, but we keep reminding them we are loved in Hancock."

"I'm sorry if I cry, but it's been rough," Martin said during Tuesday's school board meeting at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue. She was one of five Little Orleans parents and students who read letters from themselves and family members.

Martin said she hoped the arrangement between Allegany and Washington counties' school systems could be made permanent.

The domino effect began when Garrett County officials voted to take their students back from Allegany County schools.

Allegany County schools officials are trying to cut $6.5 million from a $111 million budget after learning of funding cuts, Allegany schools spokeswoman Mia Cross said.

Allegany's arrangement with Washington County Public Schools costs Allegany about $400,000 in lost state revenue and requires it to pay Washington County nearly $191,000 a year, Cross has said.

Cross said Wednesday she thought the ultimate plan was to eventually phase out the program that allows Little Orleans children to attend Washington County schools, but school system officials must determine when, and they are awaiting final funding figures from the state and Allegany County governments.

Still to be determined is whether to grandfather in current students so they can continue attending Washington County schools, she said.

Cross said Thursday that she didn't expect Allegany school officials to make a decision about the program until after a budget is finalized in June.

Several Little Orleans families pleaded their case to Allegany County school board members at Tuesday night's board meeting, Cross said.

Near the end of Tuesday's Washington County school board meeting, board member Paul Bailey said there was a "knot in my stomach for those people."

"I feel so terribly bad for them," Bailey said.

Close to home

Renee Mason wept Tuesday as she read a thank-you letter from her youngest son, who attends sixth grade at Hancock Middle-Senior.

Parents and students talked about how the students were able to participate in after-school activities, including academic, musical, and athletic events, at Hancock because the school wasn't far from their homes.

Brenda Castle said her children will not be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities at the Cumberland school because it is too far from home.

Most of the Little Orleans parents work east of Little Orleans, making the trip back to Cumberland difficult, said Castle, the mother of three. A lack of extracurricular activities won't look good on their college scholarship applications, she said.

Michaela Castle, a Hancock senior, said she was struggling in math when she started at Hancock, but now can stay after school and get extra help.

Michaela said she's been involved with student government, helped organize blood drives, Veterans Day assemblies and dances and helped raise money to start Hancock's first girls soccer team.

Sixth-grader Cameron Castle said the bus ride to school in Cumberland will be at least 80 minutes versus the 20 minutes it takes to get to Hancock.

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