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Delegates continue battle of Little Orleans

Bills aim to end dispute over whether students can keep going to school in Hancock

March 21, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Two Western Maryland delegates clashed again Wednesday over a bill to let some Allegany County students continue attending school in Washington County.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, urged the House Ways and Means Committee to pass his latest bill, which would let students attend school in another county if traveling to a school in their home county “is not feasible.”

The bill is aimed at ending a dispute over whether students in Little Orleans in Allegany County can keep going to school in Hancock in Washington County.

More than a decade ago, Allegany County started allowing Little Orleans students to attend school in Hancock when they could no longer go to a nearby school, where upper grade levels had been cut.

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In 2011, the Allegany County school board decided to end the Hancock arrangement. High school students could finish their school career in Washington County, but middle school students had to return to Allegany County.

As Little Orleans families pushed to stay in Hancock schools, the battle grew in complexity.

The Maryland State Board of Education and an Allegany County judge have upheld the local school board’s decision.

On Wednesday, school officials and Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, urged the Ways and Means Committee to defeat the bill and honor the process that allows local decision-making.

This is the second bill on the issue Myers has introduced. His first bill would let students go to a public secondary school in an adjacent county if they’d have to travel “greater than 30 miles” to get to school in their home county.

If Allegany County were written by name into the bills, they’d have been considered “local,” and a majority of the county’s state representatives would have to support them for them to advance. Myers and Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, R-Garrett/Allegany, are sponsoring the new bill, but Kelly is opposed.

The fourth Allegany County delegation member, Sen.George C. Edwards, previously tried to help broker a compromise, but hasn’t explicitly taken a position on either bill. Kelly told the committee Edwards was “very evasive.”

Myers argued that his proposal is meant to help the students, instead of worrying about money Allegany County loses by letting them go to school in Hancock.

But Allegany County officials said the loss of funding has been significant and is forcing them to make cuts.

Allegany County Schools Superintendent David Cox said dozens of teaching positions have been eliminated.

School board member Edward Root said the district has to think about what’s best for all 8,500 students.

If the board is overruled through either bill, it will have to make additional cuts, board member Jeffrey Metz said.

Representatives from the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education testified against the bill on Wednesday.

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