Teens to push on despite defeat

Measure for voting rights on school board is rejected

April 16, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

With the resilience that one might expect from a teenager, Maggie McEvoy believes students will be even more driven after last week's defeat of a resolution to secure partial voting rights for Carroll County's school board student representative.

"If anything, this will help get students more fired up. I know it makes me really want this now," said McEvoy, who will serve as the board's student representative for the next school year. "There's no more compelling reason to grant students this right than the fact [that] who knows more about the students than the students themselves."

McEvoy said she plans to gauge students' interest in pursuing the issue in the coming school year.

"We'll consider whether to pursue it or whether it'll make more sense to take a year off to revamp the argument," she said.

McEvoy said she would work to rally greater support from students, teachers and parents. She said she also hopes to meet one-on-one with school board members to persuade them to change their minds.

In Carroll, the board's student representative has an "opinion vote," which means he or she is allowed to participate in voting at board meetings, but the vote does not count.

Brendan Schlauch, whose term as student representative ends next month, had sought board support for a resolution to grant partial voting rights - a say on most matters, except for personnel and budgetary.

In his efforts to get the resolution passed, Schlauch had maintained that the board stood to gain more respect - and validity - for their decisions among students.

If the board had passed the resolution, it would have needed the local legislative delegation's support to move it to the next session of the General Assembly in the hopes of becoming law. Schlauch had hoped to secure partial voting rights for the student member by the 2008-2009 school year.

But in a 3-2 vote, board members at last week's meeting voted down the resolution, expressing concern that a student with voting rights would be representing county voters who had not elected the young representative.

Thomas G. Hiltz, board president, said that if the elected panel were an appointed one, he wouldn't be as concerned about the implications of allowing the student representative to have a vote that is counted.

"You hear students need to be represented and have partial voting rights," Hiltz said. "By granting partial voting rights, the students are not just representing students but would be representing all of the electorate of Carroll County."

Hiltz said giving the student representative voting rights would be "skirting the process" of the general election.

He said he had suggested to Schlauch that students consider submitting a resolution that would have asked the legislature to grant the local board the right to allow its student member's vote to count on a case-by-case basis.

Although Hiltz said such a resolution would have had a greater chance of winning board approval, Schlauch said he rejected that idea because it wasn't a permanent solution.

Board member C. Scott Stone said he remained unconvinced that the student representative needed partial voting rights.

"Having a student on the board is meant to be an instructional opportunity," Stone said. "I don't see where that instruction has to culminate in voting rights. ... It's not sufficient to say they've earned the right."

Patricia W. Gadberry, the board's newest member, said she supported Schlauch's resolution because she wants the student representative to be as involved as possible.

"The kids are our major stakeholders," she said.

She suggested that student representatives consider a longer period of shadowing members of the board before taking a seat on the panel because many issues are long-term matters that are eventually voted upon. Student members spend about a year preparing for their role on the board.

All of Maryland's 24 districts have a student representative or member sitting on local school boards. Five local boards grant student members some type of voting privileges, according to the state Department of Education.

Anne Arundel County's student member has full voting rights, including on budgetary and personnel matters. Student representatives in Baltimore City and in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have limited rights. The student member on the state Board of Education also has partial voting rights.

The Howard County's board recently delayed by at least a year giving its student member a vote.

McEvoy said she expects to keep the issue alive.

"The members of the board are well-educated, logical thinkers and they have the best interests of the students at heart," she said. "But you can't replace the students' opinion. The students live and breathe the decisions that the board makes everyday. There's no greater voice than [the students'] voice."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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