Vote for student member of county school board receives plenty of support


Supporters of suffrage for the Howard County school board's student member run the gamut.

From alumni to teachers to local politicians, they made their argument loud and clear to the school board last week.

"Student leaders have demonstrated their worth," said Rosemary Mortimer, a former president of the Howard County PTA Council. "Give them voting rights. They have earned the right and will serve us well."

The public hearing on a proposal to grant partial voting rights to a student board member drew 26 speakers, a high turnout considering most hearings on policies bring out fewer than a handful of people. The exception to that is redistricting.

If approved, the proposal would not affect the current student member, Jeff Lasser, a senior at Atholton High School. It would take effect in December 2006, when the board expands from five to seven members. Under the proposal, a student member would vote on all issues except the budget, disciplinary personnel matters, school boundaries and closings, and collective bargaining.

Lasser has an opinion vote, which is recorded, but does not count.

Of the 26 people who testified, only three opposed the proposal, including Ann DeLacy and Colleen Morris, president and secretary of the Howard County Education Association, respectively, and Laura Waters, a former Board of Education member.

"Giving an equal vote to someone elected by a constituent group, the vast majority of whom are under the voting age, dilutes the impact of the vote of each board member elected by eligible Howard County voters," DeLacy said.

DeLacy also expressed concern about a student member's vote on issues not specifically covered by collective bargaining but affecting employment rights and issues.

Waters, who served on the board from 1998 to 2001, outlined several reasons she opposed the proposal, including the fact that a student board member is elected by middle and high school students rather than in a general election.

"In addition, board members serve four-year terms, and students who sit on the board may serve for two years. But often students only serve for one year," said Waters. "The shorter length of term means that students do not always have to live with the consequences of their vote."

Nevertheless, overwhelming support for suffrage drowned out the opposition.

Among the supporters were Howard County Councilman Ken Ulman, the PTA Council, the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Atholton Principal Marcy Leonard and Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat.

"The basic idea is a good one," said Bobo, who expressed surprise that Howard County lagged behind its neighbors in the student suffrage movement. "It seems to be working in other counties, and it's time to try it here."

Among Maryland's 24 school systems, five local school boards have student members with voting rights. The student member on the State Board of Education, Josh Michael of Centennial, also has partial voting rights.

Several current and former students spoke in support, including past student board member Jeff Amoros, who graduated from Centennial High School.

"In giving the students of Howard County a true voice on this board, you will allow those 47,000 students a chance to speak their minds, a chance to have a tangible influence in government and the chance to become something more than just captive consumers," he said.

School board member Mary Kay Sigaty said she supports the measure, while others have not made up their minds. The school board is scheduled to make a decision Nov. 10.

AP participation

The number of Howard County students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses continues to rise, along with their performance in the college-credit exams, according to a report released last week by the school system.

This past school year, 2,863 ninth- to 12th-graders, or 19 percent of high school students, were enrolled in AP classes. That's an increase from 2,517 students who were taking AP classes in 2004 and 2,235 in 2003, figures show.

Of those students, 2,174 took one or more AP exams. These students took 4,348 exams and nearly 80 percent of those scores on the tests were 3 or higher (5 is highest score). A little more than 50 percent of the scores were 4 or higher.

Students that earn 3 or higher on AP exams can earn credit at many universities.

Participation in AP courses also increased among minority students. For instance, 105 black students were enrolled in the high-level courses this year, compared with 75 last year.

Nonetheless, performance among black students lags behind their white, Hispanic and Asian counterparts.

Among the county's high schools, Centennial and River Hill had the most students enrolled in AP classes, 429 and 382, respectively.

Fee proposal shelved

The school board decided not to renew -- for the upcoming General Assembly session -- a request for authority to charge fees for outside use of school athletic fields.

Following the recommendation of Roger Plunkett, the school system's business, community and government relations officer, who said more community discussion and input are needed, the Board of Education will defer movement on the legislation until the 2007 General Assembly. The legislators rejected that idea last winter after leaders of several youth recreation leagues opposed the measure, saying it might keep children from low-income families from participating.

The proposed $5 fee per child would help pay for maintenance of school fields and prompt groups to take field reservations seriously.

"I'm still in favor of the concept," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman. "It's logical for the school system to charge for fields when the county charges fees. Unfortunately, we need to work more for consensus."

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