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Board of Ed student rep could soon have partial voting rights

The Harford County Board of Education supports giving the student representative to the board partial voting rights.

During Monday night's board meeting, members voted 8-1 to endorse legislation that will give the representative partial voting rights. Board member Robert Frisch was the only board member to vote in opposition. The legislation will go to the Maryland General Assembly for consideration during the 2012 session, which begins in January.

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If the legislation is passed, the student representative would be able to vote on board of education matters, except issues concerning the school budget, school enrollment boundaries, appointing the superintendent, collective bargaining and expulsions. The representative would also be included in closed sessions, with the exception of when the board meets about collective bargaining and personnel hearings.

Board members asked student representative Anthony Cofrancesco question after question, ranging from how the process of choosing representatives would work, what would happen in the case of a tie vote on the board and how other counties in the state that have voting rights for their student members feel since passing their legislation.

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Cofrancesco said he has been working hard over the past week to address requests made by the other board members at the last meeting for more information from counties who do allow partial voting rights for their student representatives.

"I got a lot of really good feedback," Cofrancesco said about the counties that allow partial or full voting right for the student representatives, as well as the Maryland State Board of Education. He added he also met with County Councilman Joe Woods and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti on the issue and was able to obtain letters from each showing their support on the matter. There were no negative comments from those boards, he said.

Board President Leonard Wheeler asked what kind of information Cofrancesco had on what happens in the case of a tie vote, considering that giving the student representative partial voting rights would give the board an even number of voters.

Cofrancesco replied that from his general knowledge and speaking with the school's legislative liaison Kathy Carmello that if there was a case of a tie vote on an issue, the motion would fail. The situation, however, "is not very typical," from what he's heard from other boards around the state.

Frisch had several questions of his own for Cofrancesco.

He asked if Cofrancesco was able to contact any counties that don't allow voting rights for their representatives. Cofrancesco said he only spoke with Frederick County because it's the only county in the state without voting rights that is pushing for it.

Frisch, commenting that students from sixth through 12th would be voting on the two candidates who would go on to compete for the position on the board, also asked Cofrancesco if he thought "10, 11, 12-year-olds are fully cognizant" of the voting process and its importance, or if it would become "a popularity contest."

Since the candidates must be high school seniors, Cofrancesco responded, younger students most likely wouldn't know the candidate personally, eliminating the possibility of a popularity contest.

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Frisch also stated that he has "serious reservations" about the possibility of a tie vote situation.

Cofrancesco, who repeated his comments about the unlikelihood of a tie vote, asked the board if not having a tie vote was more important than not allowing the student representative to have voting rights.

Board member Alysson Krchnavy made the point that problems in the past that have caused close votes among the board were on issues that the student representative wouldn't be allowed to vote on anyway, such as budgetary issues.

Krchnavy, as well as several other board members, voiced their support on the matter before legislation was passed.

Lewis enters Educator Hall of Fame

In recognition of her 32 years of service as a teacher and administrator, Donna E. Lewis was inducted into the Harford County Public Schools Educator Hall of Fame as its 165th member. Her family and friends joined her for the recognition.

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Lewis, who is originally from New York and was recruited by the Harford school system during her senior year of college, said when she moved here in 1976 she didn't know anyone, but over time has "since found that Harford County is the best place for me."

Lewis taught at Havre de Grace Elementary School from 1976 to 1977, Oakington, now Roye -Williams, Elementary School from 1977 to 1985 and Aberdeen High School from 1985 to 1989. She then served as an English Language Learner from 1989 to 1998, as well as assistant principal at Edgewood Elementary from 1998 to 2006 and Forest Lakes Elementary from 2006 to 2008.

Since retiring that year, Lewis has implemented Race for Hungry, a race and walk supporting the Harford County Food Bank, has worked a consultant for the Maryland State Department of Education and coaches track and field at Harford Technical High School. Lewis is also involved with her church.

Cyberbullying

The term "cyberbullying" will not be added to the title, as well as the description, of the school's bullying, harassment or intimidation policy.

Sheriff Jesse Bane appeared before the board to show his support for addressing the growing issue of cyberbullying and in hopes that a partnership could be formed between the sheriff's office and the school system to deal with incidents of cyberbullying involving Harford's students.

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Bane said a committee has been formed to "address the issue" and that he, as well as the other members of the sheriff's office, want to continue to be proactive instead of reactive.

Frisch noted there has been an "explosion of wireless communication between students" and that it has become a huge problem in the school system. He then said he is fully supportive of the addition of "cyberbullying" to the policy so the word gets out that "we [the school system] won't tolerate this sort of thing."

Krchnavy echoed Frisch's thoughts, saying, "It only takes a couple key strokes to ruin a kid's life."

Class size report

The executive directors of elementary, middle and high school performance gave the board their annual reports on Harford's average class sizes.

Linda Chamberlin, director for elementary schools, said the average class size increased to 20.9 students this school year, from 20.7 the previous year. No classes have more than 30 students.

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The average class size for middle school is 22.5 students per class, director Barbara Canavan said. While several schools, such as Aberdeen Middle, Bel Air and Southampton, have numerous classes with 31 or more students, Canavan said these were chorus, band, orchestra and physical education classes, not mandatory courses.

The same was said by Joseph Schmitz, director of high schools. The average class size is 22.2 students per class for high schools, with all schools having some classes with 31 or more students. Schmitz, too, said these were typically elective classes, such as music and physical education.


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