As several local students prepare to run for new spots on the city’s Board of Education, the Committee on Student Elections met yesterday to work toward a definition of the elected position’s roles and responsibilities.
The committee, chaired by Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, discussed the procedural aspects of elections for the two new student spots and the legal details of the amount of power the two students will possess. So far, four candidates have emerged to compete for the seats, said Suzanne Lyons, project manager for the Board of Education. Two candidates attend High School in the Community, with the other two hailing from Sound School and the Metropolitan Business Academy. Lyons said roughly six other students have contacted her expressing interest in the position.
“[The students] are really excited,” Lyons said. “I get mired in the details sometimes, but the students are excited, even the students who aren’t from New Haven or aren’t New Haven residents.”
The students are currently gathering the required 100 signatures, and their petitions will be due May 7. The election will then take place before the end of the year, so that the students will take their seats at the start of the next academic year.
The two student positions were created by the City Charter revisions of 2013, but the language of the revisions left the task of defining the positions to the alders.
While the committee approved no formal clauses delineating the responsibilities of the student members, much of the discussion involved presenting questions to Floyd Dugas, an education lawyer with the Milford-based firm Berchem, Moses & Devlin. Using Dugas’ guidance, the committee will move toward a formal definition in the next few weeks.
Dugas said the committee must consider two documents when making their decision: the Freedom of Information Act and Roberts’ Rules of Order, the standard guide to parliamentary procedure. Lyons said students had posed the question of whether the student members would be able to introduce a motion, but Dugas said Roberts’ Rules would likely forbid such an action.
New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95, who was sitting in for Board of Education President Carlos Torre, suggested that the board might be able to create informal ways of further involving the student members. For example, the voting members of the board might introduce motions on behalf of the students, he said.
FOIA, meanwhile, would impede the ability of the student members to be present during executive sessions, when the board suspends normal procedural rules and excludes the public due to the sensitive nature of the information discussed — often personnel matters or ongoing litigation, Dugas said.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to have [students] during executive sessions,” Dugas said. “But certainly in any public deliberation, it would be valuable to have student input.”
In matters of ethics, student members will likely be included under the city Board of Ethics, Dugas said. Harries noted that the Board of Ed currently falls under the Board of Ethics’ jurisdiction when ethical questions arise.
Because NHPS serves many students who live outside New Haven, some questions regarding residency requirements have arisen. Dugas said enforcing residency requirements would likely be left to the discretion of the superintendent. The student members will likely not have any attendance requirements at board meetings — Harries noted that alders have no such requirements, but alders often step aside once low attendance becomes an issue.
Harries emphasized that students should see their role not as a strict representative of students, but rather as a participant in a collaborative decision-making process.
“Our hope is that students become part of [the Board of Ed’s] community of discussion,” he said. “What’s most important to us is that they’re active and responsible members of the discussion that helps to make policy and so on.”
A need for haste was evident at the meeting, with elections and the end of the school year approaching. Any specifications about elections must be finalized before they occur — Harries said those specifications would ideally come by the beginning of next week.
“I have a heavy bias to running as simple and straightforward a process as possible, that we can implement with the resources we have,” he said.