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Friday, November 20, 2009

SMOB Voting Rights Passed!

On 11/10/2009, the MCPS Board of Education voted to support an expansion of the Student Member's right to vote 7-1 and place it in their legislative platform. This is a historic moment for student advocacy in MCPS and marks the official support of the Board of Education and the start of our lobbying process. If the bill passes through the Montgomery County Delegation, this will be a historic moment in student advocacy in the State of Maryland.

Previously, the SMOB could not vote on the 2.2 Billion Dollar Budget, the CIP (Construction Budget), School Boundaries, Union Contracts, or School Closings. This legislation would let the SMOB vote on all of these. But like Del. Anne R. Kaiser said, "the student who is elected as the student member has always been a terrific member and brings in a great perspective that almost no one else has,"

Over the course of the next two months, SMOB 2.0 and students across this county will be pushing extremely hard for this legislation to go through both houses of the Montgomery County Delegation and get it all the way to the Governor's Desk. Currently, the bill is in the Montgomery County Delegation sponsored by Delegates Kaiser, Hucker, and Gutièrrez as well as Senators Raskin and Madaleno.

Please write to your state legislator and tell them that you care about student advocacy! I have attached for you the letter template that I ask for you to send out [TEMPLATE].

Place your name and your address (so the legislator will know what district you are in) at the top and send to the emails listed there. All you have to do is copy-paste the email message to all the recipients and tell others to do the same. The more emails that are delivered, the more support that this will garner. Hopefully, with enough lobbying, we will be able to push this legislation through.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with you all on this matter in the upcoming months!


  1. I thought it was Berthiaume?

  2. Andrew, James:

    The vote can be shown here at around 6:44:40:

    Affirmative: Brandman, O'Neill, Barclay, Docca, Durso, Kauffman, Hwang
    Negative: Berthiaume

  3. Tim:

    Great job. I live in Howard County and inquired about the status of our student member. I found out that you have another problem. When the student member votes, the law states that 4 other votes are required to pass a motion. So, a student vote of "yes" is effectively useless, since it still requires four other votes. So, you need to ask your legislators to change another Maryland law to make your vote effective.

    The supermajority language that needs to be changed is in Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 3-701:

    (f) Passage of motion. -- Passage of a motion by the county board requires the affirmative vote of:

    (1) Five members if the student member is authorized to vote; or

    (2) Four members if the student member is not authorized to vote.

  4. Hi David-

    Thanks so much for that information. Our Board procedures are actually written into COMAR rather than statute. In any case the language for that is already in place on Page 21 of the MCPS Board Handbook:

    In Montgomery County, 5 votes are needed for adoption. In many cases, our student members have actually been the deciding vote in cases not relating to those listed above (even the selection of the Superintendent!)


  5. Tim:
    My mistake. The code I cited only applies to Howard County! Never mind!

  6. I read the Handbook you cited, but you are still apparently restricted by the five vote rule. I would suggest that you try and get it changed, since it effectively nullifies any "yes" vote you cast by increasing the number of votes required from four to five. What is the point of voting with this limitation? Am I reading this incorrectly?

  7. Hi David,

    I think your interpretation might be a little bit off. This is the same proposal as you laid out earlier, except it is already codified. (1) Five members if the student member is authorized to vote; or (2) Four members if the student member is not authorized to vote.

    In Montgomery County, we have 8 members (including the student member). Currently, if a budget-related motion were to pass it would require just 4/8 members. However, with this legislation, it would require 5/8. Suppose a student member were to vote "no" a boundary, then the rest of the Board would still need to garner 5 votes to get the super-majority to pass the motion. Conversely, if a student member were to vote "yes" on a boundary, the opposition would need to assemble 5 votes to defeat the motion. In any case, the student member's vote (and the voice of the students) becomes a powerful consideration for passing motions, which is the idea. Under the current rules, it does not matter whether or not the student voes in the affirmative or negative, simply because it would not count. By raising the threshold to pass a motion, more votes must be garnered and the student opinion must be taken into account.

  8. Tim:

    I understand, but my interpretation is different. The rules raise the threshold for passing a motion when the student member is authorized to vote. So if you are opposed to a motion, it does force the board to get an extra vote, which helps you to block bad motions. However, when it comes to passing motions, your vote does not change the number of regular board member votes needed. So, your ability to help make positive changes is limited. I see this rule limiting the student member's role to one of a "spoiler" or "check" on the power of the board, who can only effectively stop motions. However, if you view the student member's role as one that could help support positive reforms that other otherwise would not have passed, then this rule limits you. I would rather see the student member empowered to help make changes rather than empowered to block change. For this reason, I think the rule should be changed to require only a "majority" vote to pass a motion. When the full board is present (8 members), this will still require 5 votes, but if one member is absent, 4 votes will be sufficient. It is a minor change, but more democratic.

  9. There are a couple points I wanted to mention. The majority rule does apply in Montgomery County. In other words, if there are 7 members present 4 votes would be needed for adoption - 5 members = 3 votes. So I am not restricted by the rise in the threshold. One other thing I want to mention is the fact that the student member's power doesn't come from their vote; rather it comes from their ability to rally members around an issue because they are closest to the action. This is the case with any Board member. There is not point in having a vote in a legislative context if one is unable to bring others to your side. Therefore, I think the real power lies in the voice of the students. Certainly, a vote on the issues bolsters this voice and allows the student voice to be projected louder and carry a lot more clout allowing for the student to express their views and bring others to their side.


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