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Students set for school board vote

The Baltimore Sun

When students vote this week for their representative to the 2007-2008 Board of Education, they will be making history.

Whichever candidate wins -- Atholton High junior Osama Eshera, Reservoir High junior Andrew Gavelek or Reservoir High sophomore Sarah Singer -- he or she will become the first student member with partial voting rights.

"I am so excited about voting rights for the student member of the board," said Singer. "In Howard County, the Board of Education is the focal point of improving education, and student voting rights will give students a true say in their education. The possibilities are endless when students' voices are heard."

The three candidates taped a 20-minute news conference last week that will be shown to students in grades six though 11 before they vote. Students in middle school will vote Tuesday and high school students Wednesday.

The results will be announced at the May 10 board meeting, according to Roger Plunkett, the business, community, government relations officer for the school system.

The Maryland General Assembly approved House Bill 513, giving the student board member partial voting rights. The bill awaits Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature.

"The best way to unify the students of Howard County is to give them a voice, and the only the way to give them a voice is to give them a vote," Gavelek said.

The student member will be able to vote on issues regarding proclamations, curriculum, legislation, school opening and closing times, assignment of relocatable classrooms, meeting schedules and development and approval of county policies, according to Diane Mikulis, the school board chairman.

The student member will not be allowed to vote on site acquisitions, condemnation, consolidation, architect selection, appointment and salary of the superintendent, collective bargaining issues, employee discipline and other appeals, appointments, the capital and operating budgets and student suspensions and expulsions.

Frank Aquino, vice chairman of the board, said giving the student member partial voting rights is a step forward.

"I would not have supported student member's voting rights if I did not believe it would change the board for the better," Aquino said. "Students will now have direct representation by way of a voting student member."

With seven board members, the student vote means a tie result could occur. In that case, the proposal would not pass.

"A tie means no action. When a student board member is voting, a total of five votes must be counted for the proposal to pass," said Aquino.

For Eshera, the American-born son of two Egyptian immigrants, having a voice on the board would allow him to give the board insight on how minorities are treated in school system.

"There are a lot of problems that I see in the public school system, and the only way I could present a solution would be to hold the position of student member with a vote," Eshera said. "Personally, I've been discriminated against because of my ethnicity, and I wanted to bring the topic of racial discrimination and the treatment of minorities in the Howard County community to the attention of the board because I feel that a lot can be improved in that area."

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