July 19, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 29

High school senior seeks school board seat

Royal Henderson, an incoming senior at Haines High School, will run for a seat on the Haines Borough school board. Henderson turns 18 on Aug. 25.

“I spend more time in the school than a regular board member would… I want to prove that there’s no reason a student can’t serve on the board as a voting member,” Henderson said. He said it’s important to have a student as a voting member so the student voice can be heard.

A state education official this week said it’s rare that students run for local school boards and he was uncertain one ever had been elected. In Haines, it was unclear this week that a student had ever run for the board.

Longtime resident and former principal Alan Heinrich said he can’t remember a student seeking a board seat in the 50 years he’s been here, but he said he liked the idea. “I think it’s good to have a young perspective on the board. If that’s what (Royal) is interested in, that is what he needs to do.”

State law requires candidates in Haines Borough elections be registered voters and 18 years old by the day of the election. Henderson already has registered to vote.

Because he’ll be leaving for college after graduation, Henderson said he would seek a board seat with a one-year term made available by the recent resignation of member Sean Cone.

Henderson has served as the student body president and the student representative to the board for the past two years. He has been a member of the school drama, debate and forensics team and has been active in student government statewide.

As the student representative, Henderson’s board vote was advisory only and he was excluded from participating in executive sessions. He intends to serve as student body president again this year and if he is elected to a seat on the board, the student council would appoint another student as representative, he said.

Joseph Reeves, associate executive director of Alaska Association of School Boards, said he’s not sure a student has ever served on a local school board. “It would be very, very unusual.”

He noted that members participate in executive sessions and vote on issues regarding the budget and the superintendent’s contract. Having a student on the board “would certainly be interesting. It would make for an interesting mix,” he said.

Reeves said a student serving on a school board may find himself in a greater than usual number of conflict-of-interest situations. “It would be particularly important for a student board member to learn when it’s appropriate to recuse oneself from a conflict of interest situation,” Reeves said.

Conflict of interest situations are discussed at the annual conference in November that trains school board members. “I hope (Henderson) will attend…if elected,” he said.

Candidates for local office are required to sign a form that includes the statement “I have passed my 18th birthday,” among other criteria. Haines Borough clerk Julie Cozzi said that Henderson will strike through that line and instead write in when he will turn 18, so that it will be accurate when signed. “It’s not a problem at all.” She said that the statement will be reworded for next year’s election.

“I think everyone will be pretty darn excited that a young person is running for office,” Cozzi said.

School board member Anne Marie Palmieri said this week she would trust Henderson with confidential student issues that board members sometimes face. “He’s really mature. Royal is the kind of person that could really make this work.”