ROCKVILLE – Student democracy in Montgomery County will be enhanced when the student member of the Board of Education (SMOB) receives full voting rights July 1.
The expansion allows the SMOB to vote on numerous issues previously limited to the adult members such as budgets, union contracts, and jurisdictional demarcation.
“It adds increased power and increased importance on issues which will have greater effect in the classroom” said student member Eric Guerci.
Described as a long running battle, the expansion of voting power to the position comes after advocates launched numerous unsuccessful efforts since the inception of the position in 1978.
“This is a very exciting and unique situation and will change the way the board operates,” said Guerci. “I look forward to pushing through and capitalizing.”
According to Guerci, in order for the full board to pass legislation, the change in voting means the threshold increases from four to five.
The SMOB is elected every April for a one-year term by students attending the County’s middle and high schools.
Candidates must be sophomores or juniors with the former eligible for reelection.
Guerci is only one of three incumbents to be reelected and serve two terms.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) this year signed a bill expanding voting rights for the school board.
Describing the legislative efforts, Guerci’s predecessor, Dahlia Huh said, “There were weeks when I spent more time in Annapolis than at school … it was frustrating to me that political maneuvers held back a bill that was poised to pass after 40 years of hard advocacy.”
Limited voting rights were first granted in 1989 when current Westland Middle School Principal Alison Serino held the position.
“The issue of full voting rights has been present since the 1990s when Alison Serino really advocated that the SMOB should stand on equal footing with the adult members to be able to truly represent students,” said Huh.
One of the most decisive issues was the ability to vote on the budget which allows the student population a vote which can decide the fate of critical programs, technology, school expansion, and appropriation for extracurricular activities.
“MCPS is a $2.4 billion enterprise and I truly believe that the Student Member should get not just a say, but a vote on how this budget is allocated,” said Huh.
Both Guerci and Huh commended the support of Del. Anne Kaiser (D-14), who they say was instrumental in providing legislative support from within the Maryland’s legislative body.
“Eric worked extremely hard this year to bring to fruition the work that has been put into this issue for years. As his predecessor, I am proud of him and how he was able to mobilize, lobby, and finally achieve expanded rights,” said Huh.
Looking at the potential evolution of the position, Guerci said “a change in perception from outside officials” on how they look at the student member as an elected official.
In terms of how the SMOB voting rights reverberated outside the county, Guerci said, “I had other SMOBs get in touch with me from other parts of the state and country seeking to replicate our efforts.”
Speaking to the overall future on student democracy, Huh said, “I truly believe that this was a great leap in student democracy and I am optimistic for the future of student representation in the decisions that impact students the most.”