Students take turn running Buffalo Grove village government
When Buffalo Grove Village President Beverly Sussman called Monday night's village board meeting to order, the trustees usually situated around her on the dais were instead seated in the audience.
In their place were Advanced Placement government students from Buffalo Grove and Stevenson high schools, who took up real budget items, debated their merits and ultimately voted to fund a project.
It was all part of the village's annual Civics Forum, which for more than 30 years has immersed high school teens -- for one day -- in village government.
"Students learn about the state and federal government in school, but this lets them know about municipal government," said Village Clerk Janet Sirabian, who started the forum. "It's the most accessible form of government, that directly affects their lives.
The teens spent the afternoon at village hall, learning from department heads about the procedures for getting new equipment funded, drawing up budget requests and preparing agenda items to be heard before the board.
Buffalo Grove High School senior Ronald Roy of Arlington Heights shadowed Sussman and even took her seat during the meeting. A self-described political junkie who delights in debating national politics, Ronald found his experience in local government "eye opening."
"It was just so interesting to see how much actual reach local municipal governments have, how they work with different departments and how issues are funded," he said. "It's hard to balance a budget when people in the community have so many needs."
As part of the forum, students worked with their assigned departments to write up budget proposals of up to $2,000. At the meeting itself, students took on roles such as village clerk, fire chief and public works director to pitch their requested items to the board.
Requests ran the gamut from a water bottle filling station at village hall, to an expanded flu shot program and a new automated external defibrillator for a mobile communications vehicle.
"Part of the mission of Buffalo Grove is to create a sustainable community, and have a positive impact on the community," Stevenson High School senior Hannah Petrich said in pitching the water bottle filling station. "This is a chance to lead by example."
Petrich drew several questions from the student trustees, as did the other students who presented their requests.
In the end, student trustees approved a public works department request for a new press tool to aid in the repair of broken water pipes.
Eric Zalewski, a senior at Stevenson, made the pitch. He explained that members of the building department currently repair pipes using a torch and solder. A press tool, he said, would join copper and stainless steel without using a torch, and consequently eliminate the need for open flames in a confined space.
"This tool could reduce repair time by as much as 50 percent," he added. "Purchasing this new tool will improve the efficiency and safety of the building maintenance personnel."
Zalewski, like many of his classmates, said the day spent with village government personnel had been informative and beneficial.
"Just learning how to deal with budgets and cooperate with different departments," he said, "is good experience for any workplace."