For years, one member of Baltimore County’s school board has been excluded from decisions on the budget — a $2.6 billion sum that encompasses textbooks to school buses. It’s the youngest person on the board, who represents thousands of students, who’s directly affected by budget decisions and who some say isn’t old enough to have that type of power: the student board member.
That all changes this upcoming school year.
Baltimore County’s Kayla Drummond, a rising senior at Parkville High School, will be the first student board member with budgetary voting rights thanks to legislation signed by the governor earlier this year. Drummond, who has her first meeting on Tuesday, said she’s excited to lead the way and for other students to follow her lead, but she’s also grateful to the students who made it possible, such as her predecessors, Christian Thomas and Roah Hassan.
“Our opinions and beliefs and things should be valued especially because we are the school system, we are the students,” said Drummond, 17. “We’re who they’re trying to cater to.”
Her perspective can remind board members who they are doing this for, she added.
Baltimore City also passed legislation that gives voting rights to its students. An election in the fall will determine who that student will be.
In Baltimore County, the voting power wasn’t something everyone agreed with, such as Republican state delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki. They said the student was too young.
“Would you let a teenager vote and have control over the Baltimore Orioles?” Szeliga asked in a video.
“Of course not,” Nawrocki responded. “That would be ridiculous.”
They argued that since students under 18 can’t open bank accounts, buy cars or purchase lottery tickets, they should not be allowed to vote on a budget as large as Baltimore County’s. Nawrocki told The Banner this week that the student could have a conflict of interest if, for example, she was voting on how to prioritize school construction projects and her school was among them. He also said her perspective could be limited, given her term lasts only a year.
But Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who sponsored the Baltimore County voting rights bill, said those arguments are apples to oranges.
“Just because you don’t think your next-door neighbor isn’t qualified to be president, it doesn’t mean nobody is qualified to be president,” he said.
Maybe some students shouldn’t have that power, Ebersole said, but they aren’t the ones running for the position. Drummond, for instance, is a cheerleader, on the student council, in the college-readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination, a founding member of her school’s NAACP chapter and a member of a social studies national honor society. The legislation states students will receive training on the budget in the beginning of their term.
In Ebersole’s opinion, students often work harder than the adult board members because of the pressure to prove they are capable of doing the job. Drummond already has a set of goals that include meeting a variety of students, having their ideas in mind when making decisions and advocating for more mental health resources.
Ebersole has been working with students since last year on the legislation. In 2022, a voting rights bill passed the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates but was vetoed by former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who said his decision took into account a pending court case that challenged the voting authority of a Howard County student board member. What was then called the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in August that the student’s voting rights do not conflict with the state’s constitution.
Baltimore County and Baltimore City’s student board members now join Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties as the only four districts, out of Maryland’s 24, with budget voting powers.
In Baltimore County, both the school board chair, Jane Lichter, and Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough said they support the student’s new voting right. However, there’s at least one board member who doesn’t. Julie Henn said in a Facebook post in February that it’d be a conflict of interest for a student to have a say over raises for teachers.
“What is even more disturbing is the amount of pressure this decision-making authority would undoubtedly unleash from multiple directions on the student Board member,” she wrote. “No matter how capable the student may be, the pressures when voting on a $2 billion budget are no joke.”
She told The Banner last week that the board’s say over the budget only means so much since the county government has final approval, so the student’s vote “means even less.”
Despite what others think, Drummond said she’s looking forward to having a say.
“I’m just excited to be the first person to be able to do that ... and kind of help figure out like the small details of it and just help improve it, make it more realistic and better equipped to help more Baltimore County students,” she said.