Student board member wants voice heard

Resolution calls to give representative on school panel partial voting rights

March 11, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Nearly a year ago, the Carroll County school board weighed the possibility of giving its student member partial voting rights.

At that time, the resolution failed to gain approval. But for students - particularly the state Board of Education's student member - the issue remains very much alive.

During Carroll County's regular board meeting last month, student member Maggie McEvoy brought the item up again, hoping the board would reconsider its position.

The resolution calls for the board to support partial voting rights for its student member and that member's pursuit of a change in state law.

"The students have an incredibly unique perspective," McEvoy said. "They can offer things that none of the actual board members can, just because of the position they're in as students. ... We give an opinion, and it's worth something and should be recognized."

McEvoy said bringing the issue back up for discussion is part of a statewide effort driven by Brian W. Frazee, the student member of the state Board of Education, who has made helping local student representatives get partial voting rights a personal goal.

"It's very important that the student members of the board have a vote" on education policy, Frazee said, because they are the principal "constituents" who experience the effects of board decisions.

Frazee has seen the difference up close, he said, comparing his stint on Charles County's school board, where he had no vote, to his time on the state school board, on which he exercises partial voting rights.

"My voice is heard more because I have that real vote," Frazee said. "There's no doubt in my mind ... it's definitely better to have partial voting rights because they're more concerned with your views on things."

At least four of the state's 24 school systems - Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties - allow their student members to vote, typically limiting them to items tied to curriculum or education policy and leaving out personnel or budget matters.

Anne Arundel has the only school board that allows full voting rights to its student member, said Bob Mosier, the school system's spokesman.

Howard County Delegate Elizabeth Bobo recently introduced legislation that would give student representatives in the county limited voting rights. The bill passed the House floor on Thursday.

"We say that we want to see young people get more involved and be more involved in the community," Bobo said, explaining the reason behind the bill. "It seemed to me that this is a way to show the confidence and the trust that [students] can participate in ... matters of the board."

Last year in Carroll, three board members - Cynthia L. Foley, Thomas G. Hiltz and C. Scott Stone - voted against the resolution for such rights. Stone is no longer on the board.

"When a student gets voting rights, they don't just represent students," said Hiltz, who continues to oppose the idea. "When they vote, they represent all the residents in Carroll County," making their vote no different from that of elected board members.

With the arrival of new member Barbara Shreeve this year, there appeared to be some possibility of change. During a panel hosted by the county's Student Government Association before the elections last fall, Shreeve had said she could support partial student voting rights.

But now, as a board member and with more information, Shreeve has said she doesn't "feel comfortable" granting such rights, although she doesn't completely object to it.

"I don't really feel that the student representative on the board represents the whole student body," Shreeve said, adding that the member seems to speak for "upper-level students" who tend to be in honors classes and involved in student government.

McEvoy said she does her best to speak to students throughout the county, relying on student government representatives to keep up with concerns.

Frazee had a different take on Shreeve's observation.

"The position of student member on the board means that you don't necessarily represent the students, but you represent what's in the best interest of the students," Frazee said.

Still, because the votes don't appear to be there this time around, board President Gary W. Bauer said, "it's probably not going to happen." There appears to be no scheduled vote on the resolution.

Even so, Frazee believes that all school systems will eventually adopt such a practice.

Students need to keep plugging away, he said, educating adults on why they should have some voting power.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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