Suzi Hollander and Bryan Hancock have learned a lot about the real world of economics and taxes.
Until recently, the two high school students were a lot more interested in making sure their grades were up to par and having a good time than talking dollars and cents. But now Suzi and Bryan find themselves debating a county tax referendum they believe will interrupt and limit the quality of their education.
If approved by voters Nov. 6, a 4.5-percent cap would be placed on property tax increases. Although neither opponents nor proponents are certain what that means exactly -- particularly in light of recent revelations that the effect on tax revenues may not be as drastic as originally believed -- school officials warn that limiting taxes could mean teacher layoffs, especially since education is the largest budget item.
During a meeting of the Chesapeake Regional Area Student Councils Thursday, almost 300 students from county secondary schoolsdebated the tax proposition and overwhelmingly voted against the plan, fearing the quality of county education would suffer with its passage.
"I definitely agree that taxes should be lowered," said Suzi, a senior at Annapolis, "but the idea didn't develop during the pending economic crisis."
Bryan, a sophomore at Arundel, presented the benefits of the referendum as part of a forum to help voting students make up their minds. But the 15-year-old said he personally is against the measure.
"I tried to be unbiased when I presented the arguments to students," he said.
Both students said they were not influenced by their parents, but came to their conclusions after researching both sides of the argument.
The students debated whether the county was using its existing resources properly and the importance of keeping tax levels reasonable.
Twelve-year-old Sammy Smith, a seventh grader at MacArthur Middle, was one of the few students who stood up when it was time to vote in favor of the tax rollback.
"I want tax rates lowered," Sammy said. "Even though I'm a little kid, my parents have to pay all that money, and money doesn't grow on trees."
Twelve-year-old Adam Watson, a student at Southern Middle, also favored the tax referendum, saying it might help departments other than education get their fair share.
"People need money to pay for fire departments, and some areas that only get like 15 percent of the county budget," Watson said. "Human Services don't get much either. We need it or we will die. If the tax doesn't go through, people will get poor and lose money."
The students spent the morning in work sessions learning about the county tax structure, then voted in the afternoon in the board room at the school system's Riva Road headquarters.
Steve Barry, student affairs specialist and CRASC coordinator, said students plan to take action about their position by supporting groups in opposition to the referendum.
"They went through an informed decision-making process," Barry said.
"Both sides of the issue were represented. The actual position that the kids took was that they too were responsible for responsive government. The final vote represented student concern that the referendum was too risky."