SMOB voting rights bill fails to pass

April 22, 2010, 8:31 p.m. | By Lauren Kestner | 14 years, 2 months ago

Legislative session ends before final Senate vote

A bill authorizing the Montgomery County Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB) to vote on school boundary changes and closings, the budget and collective bargaining failed to pass in the Maryland Senate before the legislative session ended on April 13.

Maryland lawmakers approved a separate measure to expand the voting rights of the Maryland State SMOB, currently Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior David Murray, according to Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin (D - Silver Spring).

The Montgomery County Delegation of the Maryland House of Delegates first approved the Montgomery County SMOB voting rights measure, MC 12-10, by a 19-1-1 vote on Feb. 5, but the Montgomery County Senate Delegation subsequently passed an altered version that challenged the intent of the original bill, according to current SMOB and Wootton senior Tim Hwang. The modified bill carried amendments that repealed the SMOB's right to vote on the operating budget, capital budget and collective bargaining, leaving only the right to vote on school closings and boundary changes intact.

Despite accruing public endorsements from the Montgomery County Board of Education, the Montgomery County Council, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and Maryland State Superintendant Nancy Grasmick, the movement to augment the SMOB's influence over school issues collapsed because the eight members of the Montgomery County Senate Delegation could not come to a final decision before the legislative session ended. "We did all the right things and had everything in line," Hwang said. "It was just a matter of navigating through the legislative process."

Several members of the Montgomery County Senate Delegation, which was divided over whether to grant the SMOB the right to vote on school budgets and collective bargaining, argued that students lacked the experience and maturity to handle the pressures associated with votes on key issues. "Some of my colleagues are afraid of the role the student might play," Raskin said. "I think the student member is no more and no less vulnerable to outside pressure than adult members. We should judge members as individuals, not based on their age."

In a letter sent to senators of the Montgomery County delegation, Hwang countered that he is prepared to withstand significant political pressure after campaigning against challenger Jiayi Yang during last year's SMOB election. "I honestly don't see why the SMOB is not qualified to vote," he said. "These issues affect my constituency."

Raskin echoed Hwang's sentiments, arguing that the 142,000 students enrolled in MCPS deserve to have a voice in school matters. "The student member represents tens of thousands of students who are deeply interested in and affected by these issues," he said. "The students who are elected to serve on the board are very smart, tough and engaged. The student member has less experience than other people on the board, but he has proven to be ready and able to learn."

Hwang spearheaded the voting rights initiative after assuming the role of SMOB on July 1, 2009, coordinating student phone-banking and letter-writing campaigns, meeting with local politicians and posting updates on the bill's status to his blog, SMOB 2.0. "We met with a lot of community leaders to shore up support for the bill in districts where legislators were on the fence," Hwang said. "The support was there, but unfortunately we could not get through the legislative process."

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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