Pursuing the vote

The student member of the county Board of Education seeks an official voice on the panel


As a student member of the Howard County Board of Education, Jeff Lasser's vote on policies has symbolic meaning but does not affect the outcome.

Lasser would like a more hands-on role on issues affecting students, and he is proposing that the student member's powers be expanded to include partial voting rights.

Currently, while the five adult members of the school board cast votes on issues including graduation requirements and school boundaries, Lasser's opinion is recorded but not counted.

"One of my main goals of the year is to promote the voice of students in Howard County," said Lasser, 17, a senior at Atholton High School who has the support of the Howard County Association of Student Councils' executive board. "I think the best way to do it is through an official vote."

With a PowerPoint presentation and a three-page proposal in hand, Lasser is expected to make his case tomorrow before the school board. The proposal also would require the approval of Howard County's state delegation to the General Assembly.

Lasser has an arsenal of information to support his argument that an official vote would add weight to a student's perspective.

"Overall, the voice would be improved if we were to have a vote," he said. "The students are the ones who are in school every day and could evaluate which policies work and what can be changed."

Among Maryland's 24 school systems, all but Kent County's have a student representative or member sitting on local school boards. But not all have equal voting rights, and some have no vote at all, according to the State Department of Education.

Anne Arundel County's student member can vote on every matter. Others on Baltimore-area school boards - including those in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties - have limited voting rights.

Lasser's proposal mirrors Montgomery County's policy, which allows a student member to vote on all issues except the budget, disciplinary personnel matters, school boundaries and closings, and collective bargaining.

Josh Michael, a senior at Centennial High School who as the student member of the State Board of Education has partial voting rights, said student members who can vote feel they are treated with "more respect from board members, and they have more success in relaying the student's voice."

"The final form of debate is a vote," said Michael, noting that he is not representing the views of the State Board of Education.

Courtney Watson, chairman of Howard County's elected school board, said the panel is looking forward to hearing Lasser's proposal.

"I'm on the fence," Watson said. "I want to hear the arguments and want to hear from the public about it."

The school board values the student member's opinions, Watson said.

"As board members, we've changed our minds based on what students tell us," she said. "The students have a perspective that's important."

Lasser also has armed himself with a response to the concern that giving the student member voting rights would create an even number of votes on the panel, creating a potential for ties.

If approved, the proposal would go into effect next year, when the makeup of the school board is to change. Next year, the school board would have eight members with an expansion to seven officials plus a voting student member.

Lasser is suggesting making five members a majority, meaning that a motion would fail if four or fewer members voted for it.

In Howard County, the position of the student board member was established in 1988. Three years later, the school board approved a proposal allowing for a student member's opinion vote.

Marcy Leonard, principal at Atholton High School, who was the school board's first student representative, said she supports partial voting rights.

"If we think about it, the ultimate constituent of the education system in Howard County is the students," Leonard said.


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