Student vote on board likely

Howard delegation OKs plan to give high school senior more say on panel

February 02, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

The next student elected to the Howard County school board likely will have the right to vote on curriculum and some policy issues because the county's delegation to the General Assembly approved a proposed change in state law.

"I think we're pleased to see that it's passed. It's certainly something that the students of Howard County have wanted for a while. That's exciting," said Diane Mikulis, the school board chairman.

Wossen Ayele, this year's nonvoting student board member, also applauded the vote.

"I think having voting rights forces everyone else to take a student's opinion more seriously. I'm sure if I did have voting rights it would force me to take my role even more seriously," he said.

The bill must be approved by the full legislature, but that is normally routine for local measures that affect only one county.

"I think we have a really good chance of this going through," said board member Ellen Flynn Giles, who attended the delegation meeting in Annapolis on Wednesday.

The bill would give a student member voting rights, except for decisions on school redistricting, real estate deals and personnel issues such as the superintendent's salary, employee discipline, student suspensions and contract negotiations. An amendment also bars the student member from closed board meetings dealing with those issues, unless the board votes to invite the student.

All middle and high school students can vote for the 2007-2008 board member in elections schedule for April 18.

"I'm thrilled that it passed," said County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat and former school board member who attended the delegation meeting. Sigaty worked on the student board membership issue during her two years on the board.

Howard's seven-member school board is elected by county voters. Adding a voting student member could produce a 4-4 tie vote, however, and thus defeat an item, noted state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who voted against the bill, as did fellow Republican, Del. Warren E. Miller. They were the measure's only opponents.

"I have no problem with students participating," Kittleman said, adding that he worries that a student member who voted with a minority of three board members "could kill something."

"I just have a problem with that," he said. Miller said he agreed with Kittleman.

"We elect the school board to decide these issues," he said.

Others said that possibility was remote and does not concern them.

"This brings us in line with counties around us," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, one of the bill's co-sponsors. "It sends a good message to the students."

Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties have voting student school board members.

"I don't think it's something that gave us a whole lot of pause," Giles said. The bill "reflects the will of the [school] board."

Board member Sandra H. French also approved of the delegation vote.

"It's just one step to improving communication with our stakeholders," French said. "I have found numerous times that a student had insight to help shape the board's decision. We want as much information as possible to make a good decision. It's good to have that student voice."

Sun reporter John-John Williams contributed to this article.

application deadline

The deadline for juniors and sophomores to apply to be the student school board member for the 2007-2008 school year is Feb. 15.

Students may obtain an application from their principal or their school's student government adviser. They may also contact Roger Plunkett, the business, community, government relations officer for the school system, at 410-313-6610.

A countywide election will be held April 18 to select the student member. All Howard County middle and high school students will be eligible to vote.

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