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Lawmakers clash over students crossing county borders

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. has filed another bill helping students in Allegany County's Little Orleans area to continue to attend Hancock schools

March 06, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

A fresh chapter in a contentious dispute over whether Allegany County students can attend school in Hancock has emerged in Annapolis: a new bill.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, has filed another bill helping students in Allegany County’s Little Orleans area to continue to attend Hancock schools, which are across the county line but closer.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, is strongly opposed on the grounds that it’s another attempt to interfere with a local school decision.

Earlier this session, Myers filed a bill with a similar intent, allowing public secondary students who “travel greater than 30 miles” to get to school to instead attend a closer school in an adjacent county.

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Allegany and Washington counties had an agreement for more than a decade for Little Orleans students to go to Hancock.

Allegany officials decided last year to let about 17 high-school students finish their school careers in Hancock, but made about 24 middle-schoolers return to Allegany County.

A district court judge and the Maryland State Board of Education have upheld the school board’s decision.

Allegany County officials said their school system is losing more than $5 million in state funding this year.

Reclaiming students would mean more state aid.

But Myers said money shouldn’t trump well being.

“Now, all of the sudden, there’s a bounty on the heads of the students,” he said.

The dispute has pitted two legislators in the same delegation against each other, as one tries to kill the other’s bills.

Kelly said the new bill was done behind his back, even though he’s the only delegate living in Allegany County and represents the bulk of the county’s 8,500 students.

“Quite frankly, I’m offended by it,” he said.

Myers countered that it was offensive for Kelly to testify against his bill in committee, instead of opposing it on the House floor.

“Although not illegal ... it just goes against what I feel (is) the decorum and the respect that we have in the House,” Myers said.

Myers’ new bill, introduced Monday, would let Little Orleans students and their siblings finish their school careers in Hancock — although it’s written as a statewide bill, with no specific places, which Kelly called “deceitful.”

As written, the bill also seems to leave a loophole for not-yet-born siblings, Kelly said.

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, R-Garrett/Allegany, a co-sponsor, said the issue has become “a turf war,” to the detriment of the affected families.

State lawmakers are stepping in to fix a law only because the issue hasn’t been resolved locally, he said.
Kelly said the legislature should butt out.

“It is the exclusive jurisdiction of the local board of education where students in the county go to school. Period,” he said. “I will fight this and my board of education will fight this.”

Sen.George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said the new bill is a better approach than the first bill because it sets a finite period for out-of-county school attendance.

“When it’s done, it’s done,” he said.

Myers’ first bill was heard last month in the Ways and Means Committee, but hasn’t come up for a vote.

Nearly every committee member is a co-sponsor.

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