Bill would curtail Arundel student school board member voting rights

Students from school districts across the state testified Thursday in opposition to a state Senate bill that would strip the student member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education of full voting rights.

They presented their arguments to members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, hoping to preserve a power that no other district in the nation bestows upon someone still in school: the right to vote on all matters before the board.

Then committee member Sen. Joanne Benson posed a question that left the most of the students stumped: "Walk me through collective bargaining."

The Prince George's County Democrat's question alluded to the provisions of Senate Bill 0194. Sponsored by Anne Arundel County Sen. Edward Reilly, the bill would prohibit students from voting on matters relating to capital and operating budgets, collective bargaining, and certain teacher and administrator disciplinary matters.

One of the few students who could answer Benson's question was current Anne Arundel student board member Else Drooff. The Broadneck High senior — one of a handful of student board members among the student contingent at the hearing — outlined how the Anne Arundel board is briefed by school system staff on contractual matters regarding each bargaining unit.

Her response bolstered her argument that the full voting provision should be preserved.

"My daily encounters in our school system has only strengthened my resolutions and decisions [regarding] policy, and that does include the budget, collective bargaining and disciplinary actions," Drooff said.

She told the committee that she signed up for an online finance class specifically to prepare for tackling the school system's budgets.

"The student board member not only has a unique perspective, but they have capabilities no other board members have," Drooff said. "Whether it's the ability to be a fly on the wall in the classroom, listening to the uncensored remarks of a teacher or helping a student in need, this bill would limit the benefits the [board] could potentially reap from a student board member."

But Reilly noted that other counties do not allow students to vote on such matters as collective bargaining and budgets — and he said they are correct in that prohibition.

"The issue is not an individual person, because Anne Arundel County has been blessed with many highly qualified young students," said Reilly, a Republican. "The issue is a matter of published policy. I want the student board member in the room. I want their opinion."

However, Reilly said, "even in the progressive jurisdiction of Montgomery County, their student board member does not have a right to vote on everything. This is a reasonable request to put Anne Arundel County in line with … other jurisdictions in Maryland and the United States."

Anne Arundel board President Teresa Milio Birge said the county should retain the student member's status as a fully voting member of the board.

"We are leading the way in this country by giving our No. 1 stakeholder, our students, full voting rights on our Board of Education," Birge said. "We want to continue to progress and lead the way for this country and not take a step back, as this bill would do."

Birge and Drooff said the school board has not officially taken a formal position on the matter but will likely do so after its next board meeting.

Drooff said after Thursday's hearing that she has spoken with each board member about Reilly's bill.

"I believe it will be unanimously opposed," she said.

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