Lawmakers fight for expansion of SMOB voting rights

B-CC junior Eric Guerci was sworn in as Montgomery Countys 38th student member of the Board of Education in July. Find out about one of his latest projects:
B-CC junior Eric Guerci was sworn in as Montgomery County’s 38th student member of the Board of Education in July. Find out about one of his latest projects:

It has been a tumultuous year for the Montgomery County Board of Education, full of difficult decisions regarding the budget, redrawing school boundaries and school closings. Through all these issues, Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Eric Guerci represents student interests and the student voice. There is only one problem.

On all of these matters, Guerci does not have a vote.

In Montgomery County, students elect a SMOB who in turn serves as a voting member on the Board of Education. However, by state law the SMOB does not have the power to vote on several key issues: school boundaries, school closings, collective bargaining and budgets.

As a result, expanding voting rights for the SMOB has been an important issue in Montgomery County virtually since the position was created in 1978. Last week, Guerci carried on the voting rights battle, proposing a bill in the Maryland state legislature that would allow him and future SMOBs to vote on budgetary and other issues.

“The expansion of SMOB voting rights would truly bring to light a countywide commitment to advancing the student voice, with an unwavering empowerment of the next generation,” Guerci testified at a public hearing regarding the bill.

As he testified, Guerci was flanked by David Naimon, a longtime advocate for expanding SMOB voting rights. Naimon has good reason to care: he was the first student member of the board of Montgomery County, elected in 1978.

When Naimon served on the board, the student member had virtually no voting rights at all. Ever since, he has consistently fought to make the SMOB, widely considered the voice of the students, a full voting member.

“I think my 31 successors have clearly demonstrated that students can handle the job and could vote intelligently on all the issues before the board,” Naimon testified.

WJ senior Edom Mesfein, who works with Guerci on the current student member’s SMOB Advisory Council, also stated that she has faith in the current SMOB’s abilities to vote on important issues.

“I know Eric personally. He’s a smart kid, and on top of that he’s very open-minded. I think that he can definitely speak easily on any of those topics,” Mesfein said.

Mesfein added that the most important issues like the budget are precisely the issues that students care about the most, making the student voice even more important.

“The whole point of electing a SMOB is he or she represents the student voice,” Mesfein said. “Not letting [the SMOB] speak on those things kind of defeats the point.”

WJ senior class president Lainie Jaffe said that she supports expanding SMOB voting rights because the SMOB is the member on the board who best represents student interests.

“The student member has a lot of power,” Jaffe said. “We [students] hold them responsible to be an adult-like figure, but who has and understands the opinions of a student. They should be able to vote on those things.”

Ultimately, Mesfein said, this issue is about whether or not the students have a voice.

“I feel that [the budget and school boundaries] are problems that need to be addressed. If I knew that a student, someone who is in the same position as me… had a say in [those issues] I would feel like I had a say in it. I would feel more assured,” Mesfein said.

When the SMOB voting rights bill was last introduced last year, it passed through the House of Delegates by a vote of 125-10, but died in the General Assembly when Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick) effectively filibustered the bill. The current bill’s supporters, particularly Naimon as Montgomery County’s first SMOB, are hoping this will be the year the bill goes the distance.

“My plea to you is [to not] make me come back again next year,” Naimon said.

The bill has wide support from Montgomery County lawmakers. If the bill is adopted, it could come to a vote by the end of the 2016 legislative session in the spring.

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