In the following Letter to The Dagger, Lynne Parry tells a compelling story about her life as a police survivor and her frustrating personal experience with the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship program, which was designed to assist the families of fallen heroes with the cost of college in Maryland. When Lynne’s sons were put on the Scholarship’s waiting list for lack of state funding, she reached out to elected officials for help.
Lynne’s letter tells of the vastly different responses she received from Governors Martin O’Malley and Bob Ehrlich and from several local legislators. Lynne also raises questions about state budget priorities as she continues to advocate on behalf of her own children and those of other survivors.
I want to make you familiar with a situation that many may find disconcerting, at the very least enlightening. My late husband, Detective Sergeant Mark F. Parry was employed by Baltimore County Police Department. Mark had volunteered to work the third shift as acting Lieutenant during Christmas week and was hit by a drunk driver on December 27, 2001. Mark underwent several emergent life saving procedures yet was unable to pull through. 25 days later Mark died on January 21, 2002 as a result of the motor vehicle accident injuries. Deaths such as this are labeled Line of Duty or LOD. Mark left behind me, his wife of over 17 years and three children ages 10, 12 and 14 at the time, (also a sister, a brother and many more extended family and dear friends). As anyone can imagine a sudden loss like this was traumatizing while also being a very public one. We received so many gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness that it was overwhelming. This tragic event has altered all of our lives in ways never imagined.
It is no secret that when there is a LOD anywhere in this country that the respective State and the PSOB (Public Safety Officers Benefit) each award money to the surviving spouse and children. How that amount is determined I have no idea, it varies yearly and from State to State. I have not spent any of that money as knowing there are no guarantees with pensions, healthbenefits, etc I want to be prepared. Something else my kids and I both heard, as well as family and friends who surrounded us in our grief was that Maryland takes care of their LOD deaths. We heard this many times that when it came time for higher education/college that as long as they attended a State School in Maryland, things would be covered. Mark himself had been told this many times over during his annual in-service with the department. I suspect most police officers in Maryland are under this impression. Shortly before my older son started his senior year of high school I called the MHEC (Maryland Higher Education Commission) for clarification and I was told then that the Edward T. Conroy Memorial scholarship rarely is able to meet all the funding requests, it is for tuition and fees only, and that there was no guarantee for my three children. My older son and I looked into other options and still did the Conroy paperwork, submitted it in May of 2005 and waited. My son was to start school in the fall of 2005 at Frostburg State. In the meantime I shared this comment to some of my FOP(Fraternal Order of Police) contacts, initially they did not believe me.
The State FOP agreed to look into this, as they believed it was a guaranteed survivor benefit, and eventually Governor Ehrlich was notified. I communicated with Ken Zeigler, an aide to the Governor’s office, who assured me that they would get to the bottom of this and he apologized for the fact that I was dealing with this uncertainty. He also stated that Chip DiPaula (2005 Maryland’s new Chief of Staff) was getting involved and that my oldest would eventually receive the award for tuition and fees. Ken called me with the official award acceptance news early August 2005-I remember clearly because my youngest and I were at COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors-a national organization)-Kids camp in Wisconsin. He explained that Governor Ehrlich and his administration were embarrassed that this had happened and they hoped this would never happen again. My oldest has continued to receive the award while attending Frostburg State University. His tuition and fees have been paid for by the State of MD via the Conroy scholarship, and has already been renewed for his last/4th year. We are responsible for room, board, books other expenses etc. Being a police survivor gives us automatic membership of both National COPS and Maryland’s chapter. MD COPS offers a scholarship that he was also fortunate to receive.
My middle child, another son, has just graduated from high school and will be starting at University of Maryland at College Park this fall. We are all excited for him, he and his dad were “Terp” fans and I believe this is one reason why he wanted to go there so badly-to help keep his memories of his dad alive. Once again we applied for the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship (listed on the National COPS web site as a benefit for Maryland Survivors). The new application for the 2008-09 school year was made available shortly after May 1st and was due July 15th to the MHEC. My son’s application was mailed certified May 23rd. Imagine our surprise and disappointment last Monday (7.28.08), when we found out he was denied the award due to insufficient funding. My son is on a waiting list, but once again withuncertainty. After our experience three years ago I assumed the MHEC had a better way of tracking potential applicants. (Note this scholarship is also open to survivors of military death, disability, POW/MIA of Vietnam War, and 911 survivors—all very worthwhile candidates!). I in no way mean to imply that my children are any more deserving than any other eligible applicants. I don’t believe anyone who meets the criteria should ever be on a waiting list. My younger son was of course very upset and I assured him that he would still go to UMCP-that I had money saved. His comment was “thank goodness you knew better and what if we had needed that money to live?”
My first reaction was to call my Delegate, Pat McDonough –he immediately called someone he knows in the Education Dept, and has since emailed me the same answer…the funds are gone. I also emailed the Governor, Senator Harris, all three of my delegates and my congressman. I have also heard back from Senator Harris’ office. Senator Kathy Klausmier, from District 8 in Baltimore County, is also aware and looking into the situation. They are supportive of our efforts and have also encouraged my son to apply for the senatorial and/or Delegate scholarships. We live in District 7 and know there are many deserving candidates here, so I felt it more appropriate initially to apply only for the Conroy scholarship, as my children are the best fit for this. The FOP Lobbyist, Frank Boston, is also aware and the President of the State FOP. I did receive a response forwarded from Delegate Aumann (District 42) via the MHEC office that there are currently 114 recipients and they have expended their funds, and this is why my son is on the waiting list. I can’t help but wonder how many others are on the waiting list??
I have been happy that two of our children have chosen to stay in Maryland, support Maryland’s economy, and attend State Schools, but yet there is still inadequate funding for this scholarship. I wish I knew what transpired when Governor Ehrlich was in office. His administration apparently believed the Conroy should live up to its expectations. Isn’t Maryland now the richest State in the U.S.? I understand that the current economy has made everyone’s budgets a challenge and respect that evidently the State of Maryland is no different. But then it does make me wonder why for the last 3-4 legislative sessions have I heard of Bills presented to give Illegal Immigrants in state tuition?? That does not sound fiscally responsible. I communicate with survivors from other States and am familiar with what happens elsewhere. Often times if the survivors opt to attend a State School the tuition and fees are simply waived, it is not contingent on funding or the number of applicants. (Check out State benefits on www.nationalcops.org). I am disappointed I haven’t heard from either Governor O’Malley or his reps; not even an email from his office to explain the situation. He came to Mark’s viewing; I guess that should be enough.
If Mark was still alive he may very well be working Part-time (as many police officers do) at a college like Towson or Ville Julie, which in turn compensates this line of work with free or reduced tuition at their respective schools. I have always thought this was the rationale for the Conroy award- to acknowledge the commitment and sacrifices of the officer and in turn the STATE recognizes this to the surviving family. Quite honestly it is not only about the money it is the principle of the matter. I have told many of my family and neighbors who were there for us when Mark died. Many of them heard what we were told and they are aghast when I tell them about this now, as this only diminishes what Mark and so many other police officers/rescue workers have died for, and for the ones who put their life on the line everyday do. “ It is just wrong” is what my neighbor said. Our children have to miss their dad being there on special days, run of the mill days, sporting events, giving hugs and encouragement, enforcing rules and discipline, and recently now another high school graduation. We have all learned to plug on because that is what you do, and I have told our kids to never, never use what happened to their dad as an excuse for not making the most of themselves. As adults we know life is not fair and we all need to make the best of what we are dealt, unfortunately my kids have learned this early. I am proud to see them doing as well as they do and I know Mark would be proud of them too.
The Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship was established by state legislation in 1990 to help offset the cost of college for survivors of public safety officers and others killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Eligible applicants include the children and surviving spouses of law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulance and rescue workers and in certain circumstances, applicants may also be disabled public safety employees or veterans. The Scholarship is administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) and awards can cover up to the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees at a Maryland institution. It all depends on the funding provided each year by the governor and approved by state lawmakers.
When funds run short, a sad competition ensues among equally qualified survivors as MHEC has little choice but to award scholarships according to who was first to send in their paperwork. Students who apply well ahead of the application deadline can still lose out depending on their place in the queue. Those who do receive awards often get a rationed share of the budgeted funds, which this year totaled $570,474. The need for a first-come, first-served rule may be fair in other circumstances, but is this really the best we can do for a group of kids whose parents were protecting the public and were suddenly, violently wrenched away?
Surely our elected officials can anticipate the number of applicants each year and provide enough funding so no one gets a small fraction of what they need or worse, goes away empty handed. Somewhere there are records of the families of all public safety officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. MHEC estimates the number of applicants based on past experience and organizations such as Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) have offered data on some eligible groups to state officials in the past. But COPS estimates that awards in recent years have ranged from 65% to 91% of the total cost of tuition and fees. Are the Governor and state legislators short-changing these families for lack of information, or are they just short-changing them?
Whatever the reason, funding has not kept pace with demand. Just 60 scholarships were awarded the year Mark Parry died. According to MHEC, that number grew to 121 last year, in part because of greater outreach to qualified applicants. But lawmakers also expanded eligibility without adding funding and overall costs have risen. Tuition may have been flat at Maryland public institutions, but fees have gone up. And since awards are renewable for 5 years and priority is given to students already in the program, those costs need to be factored in.
This year, 114 scholarships were awarded before the money ran out. That’s why Lynne Parry and other single parents (eligibility ends when spouses re-marry) have children on the waiting list. Lynne’s son is just one of 40, according to MHEC. They’re all there case someone who did get an award attends a school outside Maryland and has to give back the scholarship, which MHEC will then redistribute to whoever’s next in line.
For some who play this waiting game, their shot at higher education hangs in the balance. Sure, they can scramble at the last minute to chase down other sources of money, but if this is the way our elected officials keep faith with the children and spouses of our public safety officers, it’s a disgrace.
The absolute dollars in question is small for this program; $227,040 would give this years’ average award of $5,676 to all the kids on the waiting list now. In a $31 billion state budget, we ought to find the money.
These are the families who sent one of their own to rescue, protect and defend you and me. We can never, never repay their sacrifice. But we can ease one burden. The University System of Maryland waives tuition for the children of their employees, why can’t something similar be done for the children of our fallen heroes? We should urge Governor O’Malley and our state legislators to make this right.
When we needed them, these families gave us everything. When they need us, how can we tell them to take and number and get in line?
Private donations can be also be made to the Edward T. Conroy Scholarship Fund. The Annotated Code of Maryland allows for private citizens to make donations to the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship Fund. To donate to the Fund, please write a detailed letter indicating your wish to donate to the Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship Fund and send the letter along with your check, made payable to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. You can address it to Mr. Edward Ommert, Director of Administrative Services, at the address listed below:
Maryland Higher Education Commission
Office of Student Financial Assistance
839 Bestgate Road, Suite 400
Annapolis, MD 21401