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Legislature votes to give student member of BCPS Board the power to vote on budget

Christian Thomas, the current student member of the Baltimore County School Board, is sworn into office. Credit: BCPS

The student member on Baltimore County’s school board will be allowed to vote on the school system’s multi-billion-dollar budget, under legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly before adjourning Monday.

Currently, the student board member can vote on policy but not the operating or capital budgets.

Christian Thomas, the current school board member, tweeted after the vote “We did it!”

Thomas leaves the board July 1 after serving the one-year student term. The next student board member, Perry Hall High School junior Roah Hassan, will be the first allowed to cast budget votes.

“I am honored to be the first BCPS student member of the board to have a vote on the budget,” Hassan tweeted. “I will fulfill the promises I have made to BCPS and leave a precedent that future student members of the board can be proud of.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has not said whether he will sign the bill into law.

“The governor will give thoughtful consideration to the legislation when it reaches his desk,” said Michael Ricci, Hogan’s director of communications.

Opponents of the legislation said the student member is too inexperienced to vote on the budget. They also pointed out they only get one-year terms, not long enough to get a firm grasp on the budget process.

But at a legislative hearing in January, Hereford High School Junior Samantha Warfel said the student member brings classroom experience to the table.

“The adult board members are not students,” Warfel said. “They’re not sitting in school buildings every day and seeing firsthand where resources could be better allocated.”

Democratic Delegate Eric Ebersole, who proposed the legislation, said student board members work harder to be credible.

“I think they can do it,” Ebersole said. “I think they’re quite capable.

“Being able to pass policy on a vote but not being able to help pass the budget to support that sometimes is not really voting on policy at all so they need to have a voice in both places,” Ebersole said.

The legislation was amended to require all members of the school board, including the student, to get training on the budget before they are allowed to vote on it.

“Probably having some sort of perspective on the budget would be wise for all members,” Ebersole said.

According to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, all but one of Maryland’s 24 local school boards has at least one student representative. While most limit what the student can vote on, Anne Arundel’s student member has full voting rights.

The legislation was supported by the school board’s best known former student member, County Executive Johnny Olszewski. He served on the board 1999-2000.

The General Assembly also approved legislation that will allow the county school board to hire outside counsel.

Maryland’s State Inspector General for Education in January reported that the school board had violated state law when it hired outside counsel. Under state law, Baltimore County’s board of education was the only one in the state that could not do that.

Democratic Sen. Charles Sydnor’s bill changed the law so the county school board will have that authority as well.

The legislation is now on the governor’s desk for final approval.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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