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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New SMOB Elected!

As of April 28, 2010, Alan Xie, sophomore Richard Montgomery High School, was elected as the 33rd Montgomery County Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB). Congratulations go out to both Nick Maggio and Alan Xie for running great elections and we look forward to a great year!

I will be stepping down as the Student Member on July 1, 2010 with the installment of Alan as the new SMOB.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Senate Delegation, Gridlock Disenfranchises Students

House bill on student voting rights in limbo
by Marcus Moore and Sean R. Sedam | Staff Writers
A bill to expand the responsibilities of Montgomery County's student school board member is unlikely to pass this year's legislative session, because the county's Annapolis delegation can't agree on which issues the students should be allowed to vote.
The House of Delegates has passed a version of the bill, but it won't become law until the full Senate agrees to the legislation.
There are several reasons why the county's student school board members should not have expanded voting rights, said Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Dist. 14) of Olney.
Students rely on their teachers for grades, she said, so if student board members voted against a matter that affected teachers, their grades could be affected.
Another pressure could come from parents, Kramer said. If the student school board member goes to a friend's house, the parents could lean on the student to vote in favor of proposals that could help their neighborhood, she said.
"That's a lot of pressure on a student," Kramer said. "I think we've completely lost sight of common sense. These students are elected by 12-year-olds. We're going to allow a person not elected by the taxpayers to vote on a $2 billion budget?"
Hey guys,

Despite our best efforts, it looks like the bill will not pass this year. Here is a bill report showing where our Senators stood on the issue.

To address the points made by Sen. Kramer in the article, I have several questions:
  1. Should we not allow parents with children in the school system to vote on policies and regulations? Wouldn't their children's grades be affected?
  2. Should current school board members not be allowed to go to their neighbor's homes? After all, their peers could "lean on" them to vote in favor of proposals that could help their neighborhood.
  3. Should steps be taken to eliminate pressure at all levels of government? Isn't the idea of "pressure" a fundamental part of our pluralistic democracy?
  4. Do you know that the Student Member position is not elected in a Direct election by 12-year olds?
  5. Does the Board of Education appropriate $2 Billion? Or under state law, is it a recommendation to the county council? So who REALLY deals with "taxpayer money"?
  6. Shouldn't all students be exempt from paying sales and other forms of income taxes in the State of Maryland since "students are not taxpayers"?
  7. Since several senators seem to disrespect the student voice so much, should there even be a Student Member position?
Truly it is a sad day in Montgomery County, one of the most progressive districts in America, when our own legislators can not agree on whether or not students should be represented in the decision making process. This is an issue that we, as students, have been fighting for for the past 3 decades. Even after 30 years of movements, activism, and involvement, our legislators have yet to recognize the impact that students can have in their own school system. Going against those who are on the ground level every day in the school system, the Board of Education, the Teacher's Union (MCEA), the County-wide student government associations, the County Council, and the County Executive, the Senate Delegation instead chose to disenfranchise students from the process.

As we go forward, I am reminded of a quote from our current president: "In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union. [...] Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more -- and it is time for our generation to answer that call. For that is our unyielding faith -- that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it."

Thank you to all the Delegates, Senators, community activists, and leaders who let us come this far. We can only hope that in future years, student and community leaders will be able to once again come together to bring up the issue and be victorious in this constant struggle to be truly represented.

Open Letter to Senators on Voting Rights

The day before the final vote on the Voting Rights Bill in the Senate Delegation, I sent the following letter to the entire Montgomery County Delegation:

Dear Senator:

I am writing to you today regarding a bill that you will be voting on in your Delegation tomorrow: MC 12-10.

During the last election cycle, we were told that we, the youth, had the fundamental ability to change the way politics was done in America. I worked tirelessly in the last election and I ran for this position because I sincerely believed that this was the truth and because I wanted to be part of a government that was truly receptive to the needs and wants of young people. It is my hope and desire that you subscribe to this notion that youth truly should be empowered to become the next generation of leaders.

Working as a board member, I honestly do not see any distinction between my role and that of the other board members. The statute currently states that I am not able to attend executive sessions regarding collective bargaining unless the Board votes affirmative to do so. To this day, I have attended every single executive session regarding collective bargaining and the constant vote to include me in the matter is simply a cumbersome and unnecessary step in restricting the voice of the students. I have always voiced my outspoken opinion of the budget with or without restrictions. At this point it is a matter of whether or not people will listen to the comments that I make, and that is up to you.

With regards to the pressure argument: I didn't run for this position thinking I wouldn't have to face and political pressure (In Montgomery County, that's just not possible). In the past election cycle, I received 35,654 votes (more than any State Senator or Delegate from Montgomery County). As you would know, one doesn't get that many votes, unless some significant pressure is applied. To be quite honest, I believe my position goes through much more scrutiny and examination than many of the state offices. I was required to debate and answer questioning from a convention of the brightest student minds in Montgomery County to narrow down the field to two candidates, to debate my opponent in a 30 minute debate broadcast to all the voters, to submit a candidate profile which is used in many government/English classes, etc. to be under public scrutiny, and to campaign to my base of 142,000 citizens, who truly place their trust into their representative.

Furthermore, I have attended every single Capital Budget and Operating Budget hearing and have been subject to extreme lobbying on every spectrum of the budget process - regardless of my vote - because citizens and community activists, just like the Board of Education, the County Executive, the County Council, MCEA, etc. recognize the importance of youth involvement in the political process. I have witnessed with my own eyes the emotional pleas, condemnations, and commendations spoken to any government body. With or without the vote, pressure will be felt - but such is the political process. We were born into a society where pluralism of interests dominate the political arena and without the "pressure", decisions cannot be made because the cases for all arguments are not made. I truly am thankful for and proud of the "pressure" that is applied to me and my position as it indicates the real interest in the community for garnering student support for a proposal.

Students have fought for this right for the past 30 years. Voting no to this bill would disillusion an already frustrated generation of students in Montgomery County. Voting no to this bill would not mean "protecting the students from themselves"; rather it would indicate a distrust of students and their ability to handle decisions. Please stand with your county, students, and teachers and vote yes to a proposal that would truly institutionalize the government's support for student advocacy.

Tim Hwang