Charles Simpson, a senior at Beekmantown Central School, is the student representative on the school board.
Beekmantown Central School, like all districts, isn’t immune to controversy from time to time.
But having a student representative on hand to provide the “low-down” is helpful in not only quelling anger over various issues, but in helping steer the school board in the right direction.
That is one of the reasons the district has a student school board member.
“I am happy to continue with the tradition we started in 2004-05,” said Superintendent Scott Amo.
The student council president automatically become the students’ representative on the board, and this school year it is senior Charles Simpson. The student participates in board meetings as a non-voting member of the group.
“It’s been eye opening,” Simpson said. “I get to see the inner workings of the school board as well as the public’s reaction.”
This year has been rocky at times with the school district operating under a contingency budget.
Last may, district voters passed the 2011-12 spending plan, but there was a mistake with a voting machine which led to a re-vote. Voters defeated the spending plan during the re-vote and school officials adopted a contingency budget which carries significant limitations in the way the district can spend money and operate school facilities.
“This has given me an idea of what the board controls, and I have learned that the board has to react to a lot that is mandated by the state,” Simpson said. “It makes me view their job differently. Their hands are tied in a lot of areas.”
He has watched as many issues have been brought up by the board and the public, which has been intensely critical of school officials at times.
In some regards, the criticism is warranted, Simpson said, but it also is not at times. Still, he believes it is good that people are interested in what is happening at their school.
“This problem evolved over many years and the public wants it resolved now,” Simpson said.
Students have not been happy at times either. They wanted to know why they lost a band teacher and why the fitness center was closed to them earlier this year and closed to the public. The latter stems from the contingency budget, which doesn’t permit use of school facilities by outside organizations.
Simpson makes a presentation to the school board at the beginning of each meeting and talks to officials about what issues students feel are important.
He thinks he has been able to make a little bit of a difference so far, though he feels he could do more if it was not for the contingency budget.
“I think it is important students have a way to contact the board and for students to understand what is happening,” Simpson said. “I think it is good for students to get a view into what is controlling their school.”
For Amo, having a student school board member provides the superintendent and board with ground-level information from a student representative. It is a sort of eye in the sky.
“It is a great opportunity for democracy in action,” Amo said. “Hopefully they recognize they have the opportunity for a student voice that has a path to the board.”
And it is always beneficial to obtain the students’ viewpoint, Amo said.
“Knowing he is there to pick up dialogue from the board table and bring it back to the students is very comforting.”
Simpson has enjoyed learning how local government works, and students seem to appreciate the opportunity to be heard and to gain a better understanding of what is happening in their school.
So far, Simpson said he has only missed one meeting.
Sometimes they are really interesting,” he grinned, “and at times it is boring.”