ANNAPOLIS — Recent student members of the Frederick County Board of Education got a little help from a neighbor during a House committee hearing Tuesday.
Eric Guerci, the current student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, advocated in front of the House Ways and Means Committee for a bill that would grant limited voting rights to Frederick County’s student member.
Guerci started his second term as the Montgomery County member over the summer. This term, he has almost complete voting rights on the board, thanks to a bill the General Assembly passed last year.
The Montgomery County board has granted its student member partial voting rights since 1989, when Guerci’s middle school principal was the county’s 12th student board member.
“Frankly, from the perspective of a student from Montgomery County, this bill is overly conservative and fails to empower the student body with the rights it deserves,” Guerci said. “But sometimes progress arrives in small steps.”
Under the proposed bill, Frederick County’s student member could not vote on judicial or quasi-judicial matters, budget expenditures, school boundary changes, board officer elections, personnel matters, contracts, collective bargaining and the school calendar.
When a committee member, Delegate Edith Patterson, D-Charles County, asked what that left for a vote, a former student member of the board, Sarah Perez, conceded that it wasn’t much: approval of agendas, minutes, consensus items. But it gives the student member greater standing on the board, allowing him or her to make motions on behalf of students.
“We are talking about making motions, being involved in board discussions, being treated as an actual member, so that we are prepared for the real world,” Perez, a senior at Tuscarora High School, testified.
Carter Gipson, the board’s current student member and an Oakdale High School senior, also testified in favor of the bill.
“I have been limited by my inability to make a single motion or cast a single meaningful vote on behalf of the students I represent,” he said. “House Bill 1028 will take the first step in granting the student voice the recognition it deserves.”
A local controversy might be the bill’s biggest hurdle this session.
Frederick County’s delegation to the General Assembly voted 5-3 against introducing the bill. The State House tradition of “local courtesy” generally guides committees to vote in accordance with the majority of a county delegation on county-specific legislation.
Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-District 3A, presented the bill to the committee on Tuesday and faced questions about going against the majority of the delegation.
“It leaves us with a conundrum. ... If we start saying that we don’t have to have local delegation approval for local-only bills, we kind of wind up with chaos,” said Delegate Jason C. Buckel, R-Allegany.
“I understand that’s a risk,” Lewis Young responded.
Lewis Young, along with Delegate Carol Krimm, D-District 3A, and Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, have all sponsored the legislation after the delegation’s Republicans voted against its introduction.
Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, led discussion on voting down the bill at a delegation meeting this month. In 2015, he led a last-minute filibuster on the last day of the General Assembly session to oppose the expanded voting rights in Montgomery County, a measure that passed the following year.
Six jurisdictions in the state — Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties and the city of Baltimore — give the student member of the board of education partial voting rights, as does the State Board of Education. Anne Arundel County’s student board member has full voting rights.