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Bill allowing more Allegany County students to attend Hancock schools draws ire

Allegany School superintendent said school board would oppose any attempt to legislate issue

February 02, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE and ANDREW SCHOTZ | julieg@herald-mail.com

The Allegany County Board of Education is objecting to a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly by Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. that would allow more Allegany County students to attend school in Hancock.

State Sen.George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said Thursday that he’s working on a compromise that would let current Allegany County students in Hancock schools remain, while also allowing their siblings to attend school in Hancock, but end the practice after that.

For some Allegany County students, it’s easier to cross into Washington County and go to school in Hancock; the closest schools in their home county are much farther away.

Washington County has accepted those students, but Allegany County has been reluctant to let them go, because of the loss of state funding, and the addition of out-of-county tuition and transportation costs.

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Allegany School Superintendent David Cox said the school board  would oppose any attempt to legislate the issue.

A District Court judge in Allegany County and the Maryland State Board of Education have already upheld the Allegany school board’s decision on the matter, Cox said.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, agreed, saying he can’t support passing a state law to settle a local issue.

Starting this school year, middle school students from Little Orleans in Allegany County can no longer attend Hancock Middle-Senior High School even though it’s closer than the middle school in their home county.

High school students from Little Orleans who attended Hancock last school year were grandfathered in so they can graduate from Hancock.

Many parents from Little Orleans want their children to attend middle and high school in nearby Hancock rather than Cumberland, Md., which is farther away, said Linda Martin, president of Save Orleans Students Association.

Edwards’ proposed compromise also would apply to siblings of the high school students who were grandfathered in, for either middle or high school.

That’s the same policy Garrett County recently used to address a similar problem involving Garrett County students going to school in Allegany County.

“I’m just trying to play referee,” Edwards said.

Simple solution?
Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said earlier this week that his bill is a simple solution to what had become a complicated problem.

The bill would allow students who must travel at least 30 miles to a secondary school in their county to instead attend school in a neighboring county if it is closer.

The secondary school in the adjacent county would have to be at less than 80 percent capacity.

Myers said the change makes sense because some Allegany County students have to travel between 30 and 50 miles to get to school in their home county, while Hancock is much closer.

Martin, whose son is a senior at Hancock, said Myers’ bill is “a very good solution for our problem.”

Two families moved from Little Orleans to Washington County so their children could continue attending school in Hancock, while several families are paying Washington County tuition so their children can go to Hancock, Martin said.

Richard Wright, spokesman for Washington County Public Schools, said 18 Allegany youths attend high school at Hancock or Washington County Technical High as part of the arrangement that grandfathered in last year’s high school students.

Another 12 Allegany County youths in the sixth through ninth grades are paying tuition to attend Washington County schools, he said.

Myers’ bill is drafted as statewide, although he said it only would affect the Allegany County/Hancock situation.

But Edwards said the bill also affects Garrett County.

“It should have been more thoroughly discussed ahead of time,” he said.

Allegany board opposed
Last year, Allegany County school officials reconsidered letting Little Orleans students go to Washington County schools after Garrett County ended a similar arrangement with Allegany County.

Officials in Allegany County learned that their school system was going to lose more than $5 million in state funds for this school year and were looking for ways to save money.

In a letter to their state lawmakers Thursday, the Allegany County Board of Education said it was “adamantly opposed to HB 335 or to any other such bill or amendment which erodes its authority to administer the Allegany County Public Schools.”

Wayne Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said Wednesday that the board hadn’t had the chance to discuss Myers’ bill.

Grandfathering in highschoolers for this school year was expected to cost Allegany County $55,000 in transportation costs, $55,233 in tuition costs to Washington County schools, and a loss of $170,000 in state aid, an Allegany schools official said last year.

Cox called it an unfunded mandate.

In permitting highschoolers to go to Hancock, Allegany schools gave up $10,000 in state aid per student this school year.

After a Flintstone, Md., school was converted from a kindergarten-through-12th grade school to an elementary school about 11 years ago, middle and high school students from Little Orleans were permitted to attend Hancock Middle-Senior High School, which is closer to Little Orleans than Washington Middle or Fort Hill High schools in Cumberland, Cox said.

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