Student seeks voting rights on school board

Some on Balto. Co. panel are wary of proposal

April 12, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The 17-year-old son of a Baltimore County councilman is lobbying for full voting rights in his capacity as a member of the Board of Education. If he is successful, John A. Olszewski Jr. would have a say in setting teacher salaries and school boundaries.

Board members heard from Olszewski and two students -- Ciara DiSeta, president of the Baltimore County Student Councils, and Andy Smith, the student representative on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education -- at a meeting last night.

Smith, a senior at Annapolis High School, is the only student in the nation who is allowed to vote on issues such as real-estate negotiations, school closings and boundary changes, according to the Chesapeake Regional Association of School Councils.

Olszewski and DiSeta hope the Baltimore County school system will become the second in the nation with a voting student member.

Baltimore County's student board member is not allowed to vote on collective bargaining, capital or operating budgets, and school closings, openings or boundaries without permission. Some executive sessions are off limits as well.

"I've always felt that students are the ultimate stakeholders," said Olszewski. "On those issues that I don't know enough to make a responsible decision, I should have the sense to stay out of the vote just as some [adult] members do now."

Olszewski, a senior at Sparrows Point High School, is the son of Dundalk Democrat John Olszewski Sr., who was elected to the County Council in 1998.

Recently, board members agreed to allow young Olszewski to participate in a vote to set boundaries at Dogwood Elementary School and on the capital and operating budgets. "In Baltimore County, we produce the kind of students who are up to this challenge," said Olszewski.

Anne Arundel school board members support full voting rights for students, said board Vice President Vaughn L. Brown.

"They do their homework, and they're good listeners, and they present a point of view that no adult board member has," he said. "I haven't found any difficulty among our student board members in understanding the issues."

Not everyone is so sure students are up to the task.

In Calvert County, local legislators recently rejected a proposal by the school board to allow its student representative to vote on some agenda items, said Margaret Gill, a public relations specialist with the Calvert County public schools.

Calvert County's student representative has no voting rights, she said.

Although Del. George W. Owings III, a Calvert County Democrat, was OK with the student representative having some voting rights, he would not hear of full voting rights.

"I am not about to give a student the right to vote on personnel matters, or to pass judgment on personnel matters regarding teachers who teach them," said Owings. "As mature as they may think they are, they are still minors in my mind and according to the laws of this state. Voting happens to be one of those things for adults only."

Baltimore County board members also expressed some reservations last night.

Board President Donald L. Arnold told students that the board's legal counsel will have to review the issue. A vote on the matter is at least a month away.

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