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Inaction could doom school-attendance legislation

Bills would allow students from Little Orleans area of Allegany County to continue going to school in Hancock

April 05, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

A bill aimed at settling a Western Maryland school-attendance dispute has died with an odd legacy.

Even with 22 of the 23 members of the House Ways and Means Committee co-sponsoring the bill, it failed to advance from the committee, a preliminary step toward success.

The bill was one of two Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. pursued this year to let public school students from the Little Orleans area of Allegany County continue going to school in Hancock in Washington County.

But, with only a few days left in the Maryland General Assembly’s 2012 session before in adjourns Monday, that bill and a later one like it are likely to wither because of inaction.

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The issue sparked a tense battle between Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, and a colleague in the Allegany County delegation, Del. Kevin Kelly.

While Myers tried to legislate a solution to a school-attendance dispute, Kelly, D-Allegany, insisted it was a local matter, and the legislature needed to butt out.

For more than a decade, Allegany and Washington counties had an agreement allowing Little Orleans students to attend school in Hancock, saving children from a much longer commute to another school within Allegany County.

But Allegany County officials decided last year to end the arrangement. High-school students could finish their school careers in Hancock, but middle-schoolers had to come back to Allegany County.

In lengthy hearings on Myers’ two bills, the House Ways and Means Committee heard from advocates who said the Hancock arrangement was important to Little Orleans families and from Allegany County school officials who said they could no longer afford to pay the cost of sending students to another county.

The dispute has gone through various channels. A judge in Allegany County and the Maryland State Board of Education have upheld the local school board’s decision.

Del. Anne R. Kaiser, D-Montgomery, the chairwoman of the Ways and Means education subcommittee, said Thursday that committee members were sympathetic to the Little Orleans families, but considered it a local issue for the factions to work out on their own.

Even though the bills were aimed at one Allegany County situation, they were written to apply anywhere in the state.

During one hearing, Myers told the committee his bills only were necessary because local officials couldn’t work out a fair compromise for students and their families.

The legislation didn’t work, but Myers still hopes something can be done through negotiation to let 12 remaining Little Orleans students stay in Hancock schools for the rest of their careers.

Kelly called Myers’ bills “extremely misguided legislation” that would have usurped local authority.

He said that as Allegany County’s only resident delegate, he hopes Myers has the courtesy in the future to show him legislation affecting his county’s school system.

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