For the first time in four years, the Montgomery County Board of Education will not be focused on changing state law to give its student member full voting rights.
The board removed the issue from its legislative platform after deciding it would be best to “take a two-year hiatus” and do groundwork to garner support for a bill, said John Mannes, Montgomery’s current student member of the board and a senior at Northwest High School.
After hearing from Mannes, Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville said she pulled an associated bill from being heard in the 2013 General Assembly, which begins in January.
The student member of the school board is elected for a one-year term by county middle and high school students. When voting on issues of collective bargaining, capital and operating budgets, and school closings, reopenings and boundaries, the student can register an opinion, but it does not count toward the overall vote.
The board’s student members have worked for at least five years to see that future member’s votes count on all issues, said Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda.
A bill co-sponsored by Kaiser last year made it to the final day of the legislative session, but failed to pass after two senators and two delegates from Montgomery came out against it.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda argued during the session that it was undemocratic to allow a student to vote when he or she is elected by a small constituency of 70,000 students, and said he believed the issues before the board were too complicated and burdensome to put before a student.
Mannes said it was a tough decision to not include the issue on the platform this year, but there are other issues that are more critical to press for this year.
“We don’t want to waste the powerful youth voice and the powerful youth capital that we have,” Mannes said.
The school board is writing a letter to student organizations explaining that although the issue is not on the platform and it may not be next year either, the board members still will be working on the issue in the background, Mannes said.
The news is disappointing to Richie Yarrow, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery who said he might run to be the board’s student member within the next few years.
Yarrow was elected to serve this year as the first ever student officer for the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.
Yarrow said the student’s vote should count, as students are most affected by the board’s policy decisions.
“I understand why the board of education took it off its platform, but this is an issue near and dear to the hearts of many students in Montgomery County,” he said.
Yarrow said student’s past votes have not been controversial, and despite the fact that it is a student election, more people vote for the student member than vote for other issues in Montgomery, he said.
The Montgomery County Council opposed Kaiser’s bill before she withdrew it this year, said Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda.
A student should not be approving and making decisions on a budget as large as the school system’s, which is about $2.2 billion this year, Berliner said.
Kaiser said that she does not believe that there are many opponents to the law change, but with the current delegation in Annapolis it would be impossible to get a bill through.
Mannes said he thinks of this year as a step forward, not backward.
“It has been a long passion for me and more than everybody I would like to see this come to fruition,” he said.