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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gazette: SMOB Voting Rights

Student board member voting bill running short on time
Measure running into Senate opposition again
by Alan Brody | Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation that would grant full voting rights to the student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education passed the House of Delegates on Monday afternoon, but still faces resistance in the Senate.
The county's Senate delegation was considering taking up the bill Monday night, after The Gazette newsletter's deadline.
Several student government leaders appealed to the Senate delegation last week to pass the bill so it can be considered by the full chamber, but a vote on the measure was delayed. The House vote in favor of the measure was 92-39.
Student advocates have lobbied state lawmakers for two years to grant the student member of the board, who is elected to a one-year term by county middle and high school students, the right to vote on collective bargaining, budget actions, school closings and boundary decisions. Currently, they can register an opinion on those issues, but it does not count toward the overall vote.
Under the proposal, the student member would still be barred from weighing in on disciplinary matters involving teachers.
Montgomery County delegates overwhelmingly approved the legislation in early February, but several senators are hesitant to allow students the same voting privileges as members elected by countywide voters.
"These are great kids and they're really sincere and really competent, but this is undemocratic," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda.
The student member is largely elected by nonvoting residents who do not pay county taxes and therefore do not have the same perspective as adult members, he said. Students also should not have to endure contentious debates on redistricting that can even be difficult for adult members, Frosh added.
"The hardest part of our job here is to say no and you don't learn that before you graduate high school," he explained.
State Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville also is uncomfortable granting student members full voting rights, but said she would be amenable to extending their privileges to one or two categories.
The current student school board member, Alan Xie, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School, told senators last week that it's important for the student representative to have voting rights on all board decisions because they directly impact the student body.
"The presence of an informed and franchised student member strengthens board decisions," echoed Michael Hagan, a Damascus High School senior who is president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, the statewide student government association.
Anne Arundel County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland that grants full voting rights to its student school board member. Several other counties allow partial voting rights.
Staff writer Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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