Youths seek a louder voice

The Baltimore Sun

An effort to empower the student representative on the county school board with voting rights faces an uphill battle.

Jennifer Cook, the board's student representative who leaves her post June 30, is seeking to strengthen the position by negotiating for partial voting rights for future representatives.

The student representative is a nonvoting position. With partial rights, the student representative could vote on policy, but not on matters related to budgets, contracts or personnel.

At a recent board meeting, Cook, a Harford Technical High School student, did not ask for voting rights, but took the first step in that direction by recommending changes in the way student representatives are selected. Under her proposal, the board would appoint the student representative from among two candidates elected by students.

"The main idea for this change is to increase the communication and improve our relationship with you," Cook told the board, which comprises seven appointed members plus the student representative.

Currently, the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils, a body composed of student leaders, elects the representative.

"This was kind of viewed as a steppingstone to increase the trust," said Adam Bortner, Joppatowne High School student president. "If the board had more of a say in who's serving with them, we hoped that would make them more comfortable allowing us to vote in issues that affect us."

Cook's proposal to give the board more input on the student selection process was met with resistance from some board members.

"It's taking away from you," said board member Patrick Hess. "I don't see any merit in us choosing your representative. I see you all choosing your rep. Not us."

Some board members zeroed in on the voting rights.

"When I was at that age, I wanted to vote, too," board member John Smilko said at the May meeting. "Even though we talk about limitations to what students would vote on, there's certain amount of perspective that unfortunately only comes with age. I would oppose providing voting rights."

Mark Wolkow, the board president, didn't immediately dismiss the idea.

"I think we need to take it one step at a time," he said. "There are pros and cons. Looking at partial voting rights is certainly more appropriate than full voting rights."

In Anne Arundel County, the student member has full voting rights.

"In some ways, adult board members are a little afraid of change," said Brittany Walker, Anne Arundel's student school board member. "We're the future, and we need to have a say."

The student board member in Baltimore County has partial voting rights and Howard County will adopt that policy in July. The student member of the Maryland State Board of Education is appointed by the governor and also has partial voting rights.

Incoming student representative Chase Jackson, a junior at Harford Tech, said he disagreed with Cook's proposal to change how the student representative is elected but said he would continue to fight for partial voting rights.

"The student rep is for the students and should be elected by the students," he said. "We shouldn't be giving that great power to the Board of Education on the gamble of getting partial voting rights."

The board has postponed voting on the selection policy until June 11.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad