Doug Masson for West Lafayette School Board
I am running for the West Lafayette School Board. Our school system is one of our most important resources. I am committed to preserving the quality of our schools and giving our teachers the support they need to provide a world-class education to our children. I am proud to be able to say that I have been endorsed by the West Lafayette Education Association. Four of the seven positions on the Board are up for election, and I would like your support to fill one of them.
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My wife (Amy) and I, have lived in the University Farm neighborhood for 10 years with our kids, Cole and Harper. Amy owns Sumy Designs, a web design business you may have seen on GLRSA soccer and West Lafayette band t-shirts over the years. The kids are in the 10th and 11th grade at the high school.
I am a local attorney and small business owner. My law firm is Hoffman, Luhman & Masson in downtown Lafayette. Since 2014, I have served as the County Attorney for Tippecanoe County, advising the County on a wide variety of issues related to municipal government. Many of those issues – such as Constitutional rights, municipal finance, contract negotiation, public purchasing, and employment law, to name a few -- are also relevant to operation of the schools
I was born and raised in Richmond, Indiana, and am a product of our public school system. I graduated from Richmond High School in 1989, went to college at Miami University in Ohio, and graduated in 1996 from the Indiana University School of Law. My first job was as a staff attorney for the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, providing advice and drafting legislation for the Indiana General Assembly. In 1999, I started working in Tippecanoe County and have been here ever since.
Over the last several years, I have worked with our schools in a variety of ways. In 2015 and 2016, I served on the School Board, filling the remainder of a term for a seat that had been vacated, before narrowly (4 votes) losing an election to retain that seat. In 2017, I was very supportive of the push in 2017 to re-adopt the school funding referendum. Other than our Superintendent, I think I have a fair claim to knocking on as many or more doors in support of that referendum than anyone. Dave Bangert in a Journal & Courier column about the referendum (May 3, 2017) wrote:
There are plenty of stories that tell about the commitment to West Side schools. Here’s a quick one.
In November, the race for the final, at-large seat was too close to call between Melissa Prochnau and Doug Masson. Masson had been appointed to the seat in 2015 to fill the term of Diane Sautter, who resigned midway through her third term. One of the reasons Sautter gave when she resigned was that West Side probably needed fresh legs to carry a referendum in 2017.
As Prochnau and Masson waited for the county election board to sort through provisional ballots 10 days after the election, conversation turned toward their kids, their schools and the learning curve of being a school board member. No matter the outcome that day, Masson said, he promised to be out stumping for the referendum.
“It’s that important,” he said.
Prochnau won that day. The following spring, Masson kept his vow, delivering yard signs and going door to door in the month ahead of the election.
“Personally, I had some good times walking the neighborhoods with my kids, knocking on doors, handing out literature,” Masson said. “I was gratified by the margin of victory. It's a huge vote of confidence for West Lafayette schools.”
Huge, as in record level huge.
From 2017 - 2019, I worked with Dr. Killion and School Board members, Karen Springer and Rachel Witt, as a citizen member of the school policy review committee. This committee was charged with conducting a decennial review of the many hundreds of pages of school policies, ultimately making recommendations to the School Board on retaining and revising policies. That committee continues to meet periodically to consider updates.
In July 2018, I joined the board of the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation, becoming its president in July 2019. The Foundation is a non-profit organized to support the mission of the West Lafayette Schools. Since its creation, it has supported that mission in a number of ways: raising money for capital projects; administering grants and donations to the West Lafayette Backpack Program which helps provide food stability to families in need; awarding grants to teachers with innovative ideas for educational programs; providing accounting and other support for scholarships created by families, alumni, and community members; and engaging in outreach to strengthen ties between the school and alumni.
Additionally, through 2018 and 2019, I participated on the Re-imagining West Lafayette Schools Committee which made recommendations to the School Board for updating the strategic plan for the West Lafayette Community School Corporation and action plans for implementing those strategies. Among other things, the Committee recommended that the Schools develop a framework for implementing best practices found in world-class educational systems and develop the long-term and short-term financing strategies for implementing such practices with one of the ultimate goals being to ensure that students consistently develop attributes for becoming well-rounded, ethical, innovative, creative, productive, and adaptive citizens.
And, in December 2019, I helped draft a taxpayer petition in support of a West Lafayette School lawsuit against the state wherein WLCSC was challenging the State’s position that it has the power to require West Lafayette Schools to lease or sell Happy Hollow to a private charter school operator for a dollar. The one dollar sale provision in the Indiana Code is part of a long-term pattern by the Indiana General Assembly of undermining our traditional public schools in favor of other, less successful educational models, our legislators tend to support for political reasons. Given the political climate in Indianapolis, it is important for our school boards to have members who offer their full-throated support for our public schools.
Our kids need a world-class education to thrive in today’s world. That means the ability to excel in the kinds of jobs they will want. But it also means developing the qualities they will need as citizens. Most of all, it means giving them the tools they need to grow into well-rounded individuals leading lives that bring them joy and improve the lives of those around them.
Important as schools are to the students, they are also vital to the communities they serve. These public institutions help transform us from a collection of individuals into a community. Quality schools make West Lafayette a place where we want to live. Our schools are social hubs, a source of pride, and part of the economic engine of the community. As Caleb Mills, the father of Indiana’s public school system, observed in 1847, we all have an interest in the proper education of those with whom we are socially and politically connected. Better schools lead to “more valuable real estate, productive capital, lightened public burdens, increased social enjoyments, and security of possession.” Public schools are as instrumental to the community now as they ever were in the 19th century.
West Lafayette’s teachers, administrators, and board members have made our schools the best system in Indiana, and one of the best in the nation. It is my goal to continue this tradition. My wife, my mother, my brother, and my grandmother have all been teachers. I have not. This means that I respect what teachers do, and I recognize that teaching is a profession with a specialized set of skills. Because this is a public school, it requires public oversight. As a layman with no expertise in education, I recognize that I must give due regard to the specialized training of teaching professionals. I believe decisions should be made as close to the classroom level as is reasonably possible. My goal is to preserve our school system as one where teachers can focus on educating our children, and where our children will receive the instruction and opportunities that will enable them to succeed.
Continue showing adaptability in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
The elephant in the room for every organization and every aspect of our country has been the COVID-19 crisis. It will be January 2021 before school board members elected in November will take office. New information and new developments about the virus arise daily. It is obviously not possible for any candidate to responsibly make specific plans about what the schools will have to do in response to the virus during the second semester of this school year and beyond. It will continue to be a constant balancing act between the need to keep our children, staff, and community safe while adequately educating our students without either underestimating the dangers of the virus or unduly catastrophizing those dangers. Under the circumstances, people of good will and good sense can and will reach different conclusions on how best to address the pandemic. We should all be skeptical of people suggesting that the decisions are clear or the solutions easy. The best we can do is continue adapting as new information arises.
Implement the School’s Strategic Plan
In February, the School Board adopted the revised strategic plan recommended by the Re-Imagining West Lafayette School Corporation committee. COVID promptly up-ended everyone’s plans. As we hopefully continue to get a handle on COVID, the school should regroup and continue moving forward on this plan. The plan sets forth a mission “to engage students in a world-class educational experience that prepares them to be well-rounded, ethical, innovative, creative, productive, and adaptive citizens who shape our global society.” Two points of emphasis which received particular attention above and beyond what they had received in the prior strategic plan were the ideas that we wanted a sense of ethics to inform our students, and we wanted to remove or at least minimize barriers to learning related to a student’s socioeconomic status.
As set forth in the plan, there is a lot in the way of studying, data collection, and fund raising to be done. We want to continue learning from school systems in other parts of the country and other parts of the world so we can learn from their successes. We want to enhance our early childhood education offerings. We want to identify sustainable short term and long term funding models. We want to identify any current sources of waste, grant opportunities, and areas where we can leverage relationships with Purdue and other community partners.
The plan is ambitious and won’t be finished any time soon. But, as the man said, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Prepare for the next re-authorization of the General Fund referendum
When the State took over school funding responsibilities from local government, our community recognized that, if action was not taken locally, the State’s funding decisions would be catastrophic for West Lafayette schools, ultimately reducing the amount available for students by over $1,000 per student. In 2010, at the urging of school officials, the citizens of West Lafayette passed a referendum authorizing a local property tax of up to $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation. The amount actually imposed between 2010 and 2017 was less than that, $0.37 per $100 of assessed valuation. Under state law, the referendum tax rate was set to expire in 2017. The hard work of the “Friends of West Lafayette Schools” political action committee laid the groundwork for a re-authorization vote that passed by historic margins. If that funding ever goes away, so does the quality of our schools. We need to begin planning for the next re-authorization vote in 2024 or even earlier if the State decides to balance its COVID-stricken budget on the backs of our local schools.
Complete renovations for our schools and provide for the future of Happy Hollow
In recent years, the school corporation has constructed the new West Lafayette Intermediate School, renovated the former Cumberland Elementary, and has initiated expansions at the Jr./Sr. High School - most notably the James R. Guy Education Center and the Bob Kelly Performing Arts Center. The quality of our schools is a blessing and a source of civic pride. The desirability of living in our school district increases property values. We need to ensure that current initiatives are completed, that we continue to maintain the quality of our school infrastructure, and to provide for the future of the old Happy Hollow facility. If that facility remains idle, there is the danger that the State of Indiana might commandeer Happy Hollow (a facility paid for by the citizens of West Lafayette) and give it to a charter school or use it for other State purposes. Developing an early childhood education center at that site is a productive use that would improve our local education system while reducing the risk that the State might try to deprive us of that asset without meaningful compensation. I would urge a feasibility study that analyzes the costs of renovation, the market demand for early childhood education in West Lafayette, the benefits such a facility could provide to the community, the concerns of stakeholders, and the potential for revenue to offset the costs.
Continue to lobby the State to end reliance on high-stakes, standardized tests
Due to state and federal laws, schools have been required to spend large sums of money on standardized testing, subject students to needless hours of test-taking, and waste valuable class time. These tests usually do not yield information about the students that the teachers and students did not already know. To the extent we need assessments, we should urge increased use of short, formative assessments. Such assessments would help guide teachers by providing timely data about a student’s needs. We should continue to look for ways to implement a more productive, less wasteful accountability model.
Examine all things; hold on to what is good
Ultimately a school board member (like members of most organizations) should heed the admonition to “examine all things; hold on to what is good.” We should not avoid necessary change solely due to inertia and a commitment to tradition; nor should we initiate unnecessary change simply for the sake of change. Our schools in West Lafayette are wildly successful. We should recognize this success and hold firmly to the approaches that have allowed that success. We should also recognize that our schools are not perfect, and just as vigorously search for areas where we can improve.
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