Student vote on board pondered

Supporters of concept say they are closer to their goal

proposed policy modified

May 14, 2006|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV,SUN REPORTER

Supporters are more confident than ever that there will be a student member with voting rights on the Board of Education.

"We're one step closer," said school board member Mary Kay Sigaty. "We should have the policy in place May 25. I feel we are moving in a logical direction."

The board was scheduled to vote Thursday night on a policy that would enable the 2007-2008 student member to have partial voting rights. Although that was delayed, members made modifications to the policy and voted to allow the student member to vote on land transfers, bids, and contracts -- rights that were not requested by the school system's student representation committee.

"Actually I was surprised in some of the directions that they wanted to approve," said Amy Butler, a junior at Wilde Lake High School who worked on the committee. "I'm absolutely optimistic that we will achieve voting rights. All the bases are covered. They are not opposed to student voting rights. All the kinks need to be worked out."

The board, which is expected to vote on the policy at its next meeting, May 25, voted against the student member having a vote on redistricting, the capital and operating budgets and student appeals. The board previously opposed voting power on appointments, qualification and salary of a superintendent, teacher appeals and collective bargaining issues.

The board voted to allow future boards to vote on whether the student member would be allowed to attend some closed-session meetings. Also, the board sought clarification from the school system's lawyer, Mark Blom, as to whether the student member could vote on personnel appointments and transfers.

Josh Michael, a Centennial senior and student member on the state Board of Education, had hoped the board would have supported student voting on redistricting and student appeals, but he said he was pleased that members supported voting rights for bids and contracts, and was exploring administrative transfers.

"I'm really pleased the board is embracing this concept," said Michael, who has partial voting rights on the state board. "This is something that was so far-fetched six months ago. For us to finally have a board embrace this is truly remarkable."

The board delayed approving student voting rights in November, which prevented legislation from being crafted and approved in Annapolis.

Legislation must be drafted, sponsored and approved during the 2007 session for the student vote to become a reality by the 2007-2008 school year.

"The hope is that it would take effect on July 1, 2007," said board Chairman Joshua Kaufman, who explained that local legislation usually passes if it is supported by the local delegation.

Thursday night's discussion on voting rights, which lasted nearly an hour, was filled with a number of concerns and clarifications.

No board member was more opposed than Patricia Gordon, who said she opposed the student member's being present during closed-door meetings and having the right to cast a deciding vote on the capital and operating budgets, redistricting, land acquisitions, bids and contracts.

"This is much, much too broad," Gordon said of the powers listed in the policy.

Board member Courtney Watson raised concerns with the student member being able to vote on redistricting, which she voted against.

Watson said she was worried about the time necessary to vote on the issue. She also was uncomfortable with the pressure that people could apply to the student member to influence a vote.

The concerns by board members prompted Jeff Lasser, the current student member, to tell the board that he was worried the policy would not be approved by the time his term expires at the end of June.

Watson assured Lasser: "You shouldn't worry. There's no reason why we can't [approve] the proposed legislation by the beginning of June."

In addition to voting rights, the policy explains that juniors and seniors who live in the county and attend a public school can hold the position. Students from sixth grade to the 11th grade will vote in the election, which will be held in the spring before the new member would take his or her seat July 1.

The policy also addresses how the student member will affect the voting dynamic of the board, which expands from five to seven members this year. When the student member votes, five votes will be necessary to pass an item.

Wossen Ayele, a junior at Atholton High School and newly elected student member of the board, said the discussion Thursday night gave him a taste of what to expect when he takes the position in July.

"It gave me insight to the dynamics of the board," Ayele said. "I look forward to coming back and making this a reality. Overall, it is encouraging."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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