Voting power? Student on school board a step closer Baltimore Co. bill backed by delegates

March 06, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

The nonvoting student member of the Baltimore County school board may get a real vote to cast next year.

Bucking opposition from the board's adult majority, the county's delegation in the House of Delegates approved legislation yesterday that would grant the student member limited voting rights.

If approved by the Senate delegation, the measure would be virtually certain to be enacted as a courtesy to the local delegation.

That would make next year's student member the first to be able to cast a vote since students were first named to the school board in 1980. Twelve counties, Baltimore City and the state school board now have student members, but only Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties give their students a vote.

The original bill, filed by Del. Joseph Bartenfelder, would have given Baltimore County's student member unrestricted voting rights. But a compromise crafted at yesterday's delegation meeting amended the bill to bar the student member from voting on collective bargaining issues, personnel matters and operating and capital budgets. The amended bill passed 15-5.

Montgomery County's student member has similar restrictions. Anne Arundel's is believed to be the only school district in the nation that grants its student member full voting rights.

Baltimore County's current student board member is Jenny Kirsten Smith, a 17-year-old Dulaney Valley High School senior. She was nominated by her school's faculty, screened by a student-faculty panel and finally named to the board last year by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"I think the community will be very pleased," she said. "People aren't very happy with the Baltimore County school board right now. . . . A student isn't out of touch and will never be a rubber stamp. And it will give students a sense of importance."

Miss Smith turned the quest for voting rights into a real-life civics lesson, lobbying school board members and legislators. The Baltimore County Student Council joined in the effort and found a sponsor for the bill.

Miss Smith testified two weeks ago before the county delegation, and again yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee.

"It's still not definite," she said, "But I think we have the support of the Senate delegation."

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the county's Senate delegation, could not say how the bill would fare, but said, "I could accept the bill without amendments. . . . Let's face it, high school kids are a lot more sophisticated today than when I was in high school."

Board President Rosalie Hellman was unavailable for comment yesterday. Vice President Calvin Disney declined to comment.

Board members opposed the voting rights measure, 5-to-3. Opponents, including Mrs. Hellman, said the student member should not be subjected to the pressures exerted on board members by people with issues before the board. They also expressed concern that the demands of full board membership would adversely affect their studies.

Some proponents, such as Del. Connie C. Galiazzo, said students should have a full vote. "The budget is a financial expression of school policy, so if you don't let them vote on the budget, it means you're not letting them vote on policy," she said.

Del. Gerry L. Brewster also favored a full vote. "These are very capable young people that can fend for themselves," he said.

Miss Smith said she agreed with the restrictions on collective bargaining and personnel votes. "But I personally think students should be able to vote on the budget, which directly affects students," she said.

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