Speakout!

February 11, 2007

THE ISSUE: -- The county's delegation to the General Assembly has approved a proposed change in state law that means the next student elected to the seven-member Howard County school board likely will have the right to vote on curriculum and some policy issues. State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman and Del. Warren E. Miller, both Republicans, voted against the bill. Kittleman is concerned that the student could vote with a minority of three board members and "could kill something." Miller agreed, saying, "We elect the school board to decide these issues." Are you for or against giving the student member limited voting rights?

Now is the time to take this step

Senator Miller remarked that "we elect the school board to decide these issues." And the board did decide on this issue. It twice voted in unanimous support of adding a voting student member.

The process that the Board of Education underwent in the 2005-2006 school year to evaluate the possibility of adding a student member was extremely comprehensive. At a public hearing in October 2005, there was overwhelming support for the proposal. Nearly 90 percent of those who testified at a public hearing were in favor, and thousands of voting citizens signed a petition to show their support. Even after this tremendous showing, the board formed a committee to further analyze the issue. The committee's members included representatives from the Citizens Advisory Committee and Howard County Education Association. After months of hard work, the committee made changes to the original proposal, which the board then thoroughly reviewed and amended before submitting it to the Howard County delegation.

At its core, House Bill 513 provides for an additional perspective on the Board of Education. No board member other than a student can truly understand the impact of a policy, for students live the effects of the policy firsthand. At present, the 48,000 students of the Howard County public school system have no official say in the matters that affect them most. The bill at hand addresses this issue while providing certain prudent limitations. With these restrictions, a student member would not be able to vote on issues that have a direct fiscal impact or on those concerning personnel issues.

While the student could theoretically "kill something," as Senator Kittleman phrased it, this is true of any board member. Good decisions from a democratically elected body come from hours of intense debate, followed by a majority vote. A lack of a majority vote in support of an issue shows that a consensus has not been reached and that the public will likely not be well-served. By adding the additional perspective on the Board of Education, we insure that the voices of education's most important stakeholder, students, are included and have an official say in the decision-making process.

Almost all of our surrounding jurisdictions, including Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, already benefit from having a voting student member. The citizens of Howard County have decided that now is the right time to take this step forward. I thank all of the supporters of this bill for their efforts, and I look forward to seeing a voting student member on the school board in the coming year.

Jeff Lasser Clarksville

The writer is a former student member of the school board and a graduate of Atholton High School. He attends University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Students deserve a voice and vote

To the question: "Why not?" Give them the right to vote on the school board, and "why the fear" of their vote? Other organizations give youth under the age of 21 the right to voice and vote on important issues which they face daily.

Certainly, they need an input on their needs as well as adults in their education process. They deserve a voice and vote on issues which are important to them.

Joseph P. Lettrich Ellicott City

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