SGA unveils new constitution


Elie Salem

SGA members swearing themselves into office during their orientation on June 1st. For the first time starting the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, SGA officers will be elected only partly by the popular vote and will be organized under four main branches.

Elie Salem

A new SGA constitution will restructure the association into four main branches, with specific responsibilities assigned to each, as well as change the qualifications for elected office. Advocates of the reform believe that stronger organization and a stricter framework for governance will increase the effectiveness of an association that has demonstrated a lack of proactivity in the past.

The constitution was adopted following a year of alleged ineffectiveness in the SGA. The prime example, as The Beacon previously reported, was that the association delayed and eventually failed to host the ‘Tigerfest’ Carnival meant to raise money for the family of a Wilson student lost to gun violence. The unwieldy structure of the 2017-18 school year’s SGA, in which ideas were presented and discussed in a large forum with little distinction as to rank or position, made it difficult to assign responsibility for the planning of Tigerfest and was a major factor in the failed preparation.

The constitution was written by DCPS last year as a sample for student government associations within the District, but was not adopted by Wilson SGA until this coming school year.

Among the constitution’s most striking changes is the newly mandated qualifications for office, which will be more meritocratic, rather than based solely on the popular vote of students. A candidate will be chosen to serve based 50 percent on their popular vote score and 50 percent on an interview, essay, speech, and/or question and answer session, each with a graded rubric. Therefore, though a student may win a majority of the student body or their respective class, a poor interview score can sink their chances of making it to SGA elected office.

The constitution will redesign the SGA by segmenting the organization around four main branches: the Executive Board, the Executive Council, the General Assembly, and the Class Council.

The Executive Board is the second most powerful branch after the General Assembly, if not the most powerful. The Executive Board appears to be given the authority to veto legislation, though this was disputed by SGA Sponsor Simona Spicciani-Gerhardt. Other critical responsibilities, such as the authority to oversee daily operations and implement and enforce all actions passed by the General Assembly, are solely within the jurisdiction of the Executive Board. The Executive Board consists of six people: the Student Body President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and two SGA Sponsors.

The President of the student body, rising junior Leo Saunders, stated that a smaller executive group is more capable of running the organization. “It is much more effective to have different branches rather than everybody in one room discussing problems that might not be as crucial [as] others.”

The General Assembly is entrusted with “legislative” power and is modeled somewhat after the US Congress, meaning it brainstorms important events and votes on what initiatives to support. Every member of the Executive Board, as well as delegates from clubs affiliated with the SGA, are supposed to attend the monthly General Assembly meetings.

The relationship between the Executive Board and General Assembly is perplexing, considering almost the same student body members are in each branch, the only difference being the inclusion of some club representatives in the General Assembly. A veto by the Executive Board seems meaningless, as the members of the Executive Board were likely those who drafted the legislation in the first place. The fact that the members in both powerful branches are similar means that student body, rather than class SGA members, have the power to draft and execute nearly all SGA initiatives.

The powerful General Assembly and Executive Board are governed by a majority of non-elected SGA members. Saunders and the Vice President, rising senior Ethan Fingerhut, of the student body are the only elected members of both the Executive Board and the General Assembly; the remaining members are either SGA sponsors who are Wilson staff, appointed by the President, or (in the General Assembly) representatives of school clubs.

SGA Sponsor Simona Spicciani-Gerhardt explained that the SGA forgot to hold elections for the Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary of the student body. Fingerhut was elected the Vice President because he had received the second-most votes, after Saunders, in the election for the Presidency of the student body. The Secretary of the student body, rising junior Anna Dueholm, and the Treasurer, rising junior Eliana Rosenthal, lost their respective class election and were appointed to student body positions by the President. “Next year they should all be elected.” Said Spicciani-Gerhardt.

An Executive Council of the SGA, consisting of the Student Body President and Vice President, and all class SGA members, will be created to advise the Executive Board. As a group of consultants rather than actors, the Executive Council is only powerful when enabled by the Executive Board. One objective, for example, is to serve and be ready to serve any position they are appointed to by the President.

The final branch, the Class Councils, is the only branch that is divided by class. The four Class Councils are responsible for a number of activities: chairing committees on class-specific activities, informing the SGA of their decisions and working closely with clubs and the PTSO. Most major SGA events, such as Spirit Week or Homecoming, are not class-exclusive activities and therefore not the responsibility of Class Council.

The division of power is a boon for greater centralization of the SGA, with far more executive control. In fact, only the Student Body President holds the right to oversee all SGA activities, to appoint SGA members when necessary, to set the agenda, and call meetings.  Members of the class student government, will have less power than in previous years, during which the SGA paid little attention to position or rank.

Junior Class President Michael Lacore stated that, while the constitution brought necessary reforms, a continued lack of commitment by SGA members threatens to impede positive change. “It will be more efficient… if everyone does their job. If they don’t, everything is going to fall apart,” he said.

Saunders echoed Lacore’s sentiment, confident that through effective management, the new structure will streamline communication with the student body. He maintains that without consistent effort and collaboration, however, the complicated framework leaves room for error.

While the Constitution is currently in use, a vote by a majority of the student body is specified as necessary for its ratification. It is currently unclear if the SGA is planning on holding a referendum to approve the constitution or operating without one.