(Note 9-7-2020: This entry is from 2016 but is currently coming up in searches for the 2020 West Lafayette School Board. I am a candidate in 2020 as well. This is a good post, please read it! But for information about 2020, check out https://masson.us/schoolboard.)
So, I’m on the ballot this year. I am one of five candidates for four positions on the West Lafayette School Board. I have posted about this in other places, but I don’t believe I have said anything here on my blog. I think it’s probably a good idea to set out the basics of my background and my reasons for running.
Who I am
My name is Doug Masson, and I am running for a position on the West Lafayette Community School Corporation Board of Trustees. I was selected by the Board to fill a vacated position in September of 2015 and have served on the board since then.
I am married with two children. My wife, Amy, owns Sumy Designs, a web design business. My kids are in the 6th and 7th grades at West Lafayette. I am a local attorney and small business owner. My law firm is Hoffman, Luhman & Masson in downtown Lafayette. A large part of my practice consists of serving as the Tippecanoe County attorney, advising the County on a wide variety of issues related to municipal government. I am originally from Richmond, Indiana, graduated from Richmond High School, 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.
Why I think the job is important
I think excellent public schools are critical, not only to the children being educated, but also to the communities in which they are located. Our kids need a world-class education to compete and thrive in today’s world. That means the ability to obtain and excel at the kinds of jobs they will want. But part of a world-class education should also consist of developing the qualities we will want them to have as citizens. Most of all, it means giving them the tools to grow into well-rounded individuals who lead lives that bring them joy and improve the lives of those around them.
In addition to the benefits public schools bring the students, these schools are an important part of the social fabric that turns a group of individuals into a community. Quality schools are a very important element in making 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.
The teachers, administrators, and past board members have made West Lafayette schools one of the best school systems in Indiana, and a top school in the nation. It is my goal to continue this tradition. My wife, my mother, and my brother 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. However, as a layman with no expertise in education, I believe school board members should give due regard to the specialized training of teaching professionals. 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.
What needs to be done
Re-authorize the General Fund referendum
When the State took over school funding responsibilities from local government, our school board and superintendent 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 $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation. The amount actually imposed has been less than that, $0.37 per $100 of assessed valuation. Due to the requirements of state law, this referendum expires and to continue providing that funding to the school, the referendum must be reauthorized in order to keep the tax rate the same. If that funding goes away, so does the quality of our schools. This referendum is necessary to keep taxes at the same level they are at today and should be the top priority for the school board.
Provide for new and renovated facilities
The quality of our schools is a blessing. It provides our kids with a world class education. It is a source of civic pride. The desirability of living in our school district increases property values. However, the demand for what West Lafayette schools have to offer presents a challenge in the form of an increased student population caused by people moving into the district. We are out of space with our current facilities. To keep class sizes at acceptable levels, we need additional classroom facilities.
Exacerbating this problem, the Happy Hollow Elementary building is approaching the end of its useful life. The costs of maintenance and repair likely cannot be justified when compared to the cost of building a new facility.
Fortunately, bonds from construction in years past are coming to an end, allowing the school district to issue new bonds for the necessary construction without increasing the school district’s expenditures above current levels. Additionally, we have space at the old Burtsfield site to construct the new facility.
Plan for leadership transition
A critical part of the proper functioning of the school is having a quality leadership team in place. West Lafayette Schools have a tremendous asset in Superintendent of Schools, Rocky Killion. Some day, however, Dr. Killion will likely want to do other things with his time, and the School Corporation should develop a strategy that will ensure a smooth transition when that day comes.
Work to create local accountability model that reduces need for standardized tests
Due to state and federal laws, schools have been required to spend large sums of money on standardized testing and subject students to needless hours of test-taking and waste valuable class time. These tests usually do not yield any information about the students that the teachers and students did not already know. Recent changes to the No Child Left Behind Act have created an opportunity to reduce some of this waste. The potential now exists to replace state- and federally-driven, high-stakes standardized testing with a locally created accountability model focused on short, formative assessments. Such assessments would help guide teachers by providing timely data about a student’s needs. West Lafayette Community Schools should continue its partnership with Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe School Corporation, and Community Commitment to Education to develop this model and attempt to gather the necessary support from the Indiana General Assembly to implement a more productive, less wasteful accountability model.
To residents of the West Lafayette school district reading this, I appreciate your consideration and hope you will vote for me. There are four seats open and five candidates. Obviously, my first recommendation is that you vote for me! Beyond that, I would recommend you cast your other three votes for the incumbents: Brad Marley, Brian Bittner, and Tom Schott. I have nothing negative to say about the challenger, but I do know that we have a good board that works well together. Under this board, the school has been accomplishing great things. Among other things: very high graduation rates, high national rankings, and consistently ranked one of the best school districts in Indiana. On top of that, property values have been going up in recent years — partly because of the high demand to get into West Side Schools. So, my recommendation is to keep a good thing going.
For more information about the candidates, the League of Women Voters has a guide.