Harford school board student rep should have vote on officers, law says

Six months after a majority of the members of the Harford County Board of Education voted against allowing its student representative to participate in selecting the board’s president and vice president, it appears that decision will be reversed.

The board was informed Monday by school system legal counsel Patrick Spicer that state law appears to authorize the student representative on local boards of education to vote on the election of board officers.

As a result, Spicer is recommending that the board policy that prevented the student rep from participating be revised to permit it.

Spicer said he learned of a letter written by the state attorney general, concluding that state law does not preclude student reps from voting for officers, after the board voted 5-3 in May against a proposed amendment to its rules allowing the student rep to vote.

The majority voting against the amendment had argued allowing the student rep to vote would subject him or her to undue influence from adult board members, which those supporting the amendment said was poppycock, since most of the next board would be as new as the student rep.

Spicer said the attorney general pointed out that state statutes specifically don’t allow the student to vote on personnel matters, contracts and the budget. Otherwise, he said, the conclusion was the student could vote on “all matters not exempt” in the law.

The student rep “is in fact entitled to vote” for board officers, he said.

Spicer said the board has no choice but to correct its policy, which he wrote to the board was rendered in “legal doubt’ by the attorney general’s ruling.

The student rep vote issue was one of several discussed Monday regarding policies governing the election of board officers; however, no action was taken.

The board elects its officers beginning at the start of its term in July, and they serve two years, when another election is held. The board’s next term begins in July 2019, and the last election officers was held in July 2017, when Joseph Voskuhl and Laura Runyeon were elected president and vice president, respectively, by one vote over Alfred Williamson and Rachel Gauthier. The student representative at the time, Matt Resnik, was sworn in the same night as the vote, and Spicer pointed out Monday he wouldn’t have been able to vote regardless, since he was technically not a member when the vote on officers was taken.

Spicer acknowledged that issue will have to be squared going forward, since the new student board member is typically sworn in during the board’s single meeting in July, which will next year will also be when the new board would likely be sworn in. Student reps serve a single year, which coincides with their senior year in high school.

Both Voskuhl and Runyeon are leaving at the end of their terms, as are Robert Frisch and Nancy Reynolds. Williamson, Gauthier, Janson Robinson and Thomas Fitzpatrick are running for seats on the board in the upcoming election. The ninth adult member, Joseph Hau, is a gubernatorial appointee who is eligible for reappointment.

Spicer said it also is being recommended that the nominations be made for president and then a vote taken, with the first nominee receiving five votes being elected.

Both Frisch and Williamson had problems with that, particularly after Spicer, responding to a question about procedure from Frisch, said the candidates would be voted upon in alphabetical order.

Saying that would give an “unfair advantage” to the candidate whose name comes first in the alphabet, Frisch said he is concerned that if the first candidate gets the required five votes, “then the votes stop and the other members are disenfranchised; I’m concerned about the structure.”

Both he and Williamson said each candidate should be voted on by name and, in Spicer’s words, “then everybody sees who the board members are supporting.”

If no candidate gets a majority, Frisch added, the board members could “caucus” to resolve he impasse, giving Congress as an example.

Williamson asked if the board is bound to a two-year term for its officers, and Spicer replied this is set by the state statute that created Harford’s “blended board” configuration.

Spicer said after the discussion that he wasn’t sure what would happen after the student rep gets a vote, because it would make it possible for a 5-5 tie on votes to elect officers.

“That may have to be addressed,” he said.

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