“Before the vote, I told my dad, ‘I’m going to be hiring a guy who will make more than you do,’ ” he said. (Starr’s base salary will be $250,000 a year.)
Xie, who attends Richard Montgomery High School, is one of what experts say is a growing number of student school board members nationwide, reflecting a trend that started a generation ago to bring to the table perspectives of those most affected by budget cuts, growing class size or school leadership.
Students serve on local or state school boards in at least 25 states, according to a 2009 survey by the National School Boards Association. There is no precise national count of student board members. But only a small number are able to cast votes that are more than symbolic.
High school students have a seat on school boards in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and on the D.C. State Board of Education, where they are invited to make comments but not given a vote in decisions. Maryland has one of the strongest traditions of student participation on school boards in the country, including several school systems that permit students an active role in policymaking and governing.
The student member on the Maryland State Board of Education, a Frederick County high school senior, can vote on most issues, including the budget. In Anne Arundel County, the student school board member can vote on everything — a power that county officials say is unique in the nation. In Montgomery, Xie can vote on school system policies and the board’s legislative platform as well as hiring decisions, but not on budget items, firings or boundary changes.
This year, the Montgomery school board unanimously endorsed a state bill that would expand the student member’s voting rights, which are codified in state law, to include everything but firing decisions. The bill did not make it out of a state Senate committee. Xie (pronounced SHAY) said the board is likely to try again next year.
Opponents of such voting rights argue that students, who often aren’t yet old enough to cast a vote for president, governor or county executive, lack the discipline or maturity to make official decisions. But the student board members in Montgomery have repeatedly impressed their colleagues.
“My experience has been many students take it more seriously than some of the adults and come better prepared,” said board member Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) who has served with about 10 student members since 1998. “The hallmark of these kids is that they do their homework.”
The homework is extensive, including reading reams of budget documents and policy briefings that get delivered by courier once or twice a week to Xie’s house. And the schedule is stacked with board meetings, committee meetings, budget hearings and — this year — months of interviews and debriefings as the board searched for a new superintendent.