West Lafayette Community School Corp. board candidate Doug Masson. (Photo: Photo Provided)

WEST LAFAYETTE – Fifteen candidates are running for four at-large seats on the West Lafayette Community School Corp. board.

The J&C asked the 15 a series of questions, including about what compelled them to run, their top priorities, their assessment of the district’s administration, how they would address questions of racial balance in West Side’s curriculum and hiring, how they think the district has handled the COVID-19 challenges and what separates them from the other 14 on the ballot.

To find out who is on your Nov. 3 ballot, including this race, go to:

Here, Doug Masson tells why he’s running.

And here are links to the other candidates: West Lafayette school board Q&As.

Doug Masson

 Age: 49

 Town: West Lafayette

 Occupation: Attorney

 Education: B.A. History & Political Science, Miami University (1993); J.D. Indiana University School of Law (1996)

Past elected positions, if any: None. (Appointed to the remainder of a school board term in 2015-2016).

 Immediate family: Wife, Amy; son, Cole; and daughter, Harper

 Why are you running?

Our public schools are critical to the students they educate and to the communities they serve. Our kids need a world-class education to compete as workers, contribute as citizens and thrive as people. I believe I have a skill set, a dedication to our schools and a temperament that will allow me to contribute.

What are your connections with the district?

I am a parent of two students in the school system and have lived in the University Farm neighborhood for the last 10 years. I serve as president of the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation, a nonprofit supporting the mission of the school corporation through teacher grants, the backpack program, alumni outreach, scholarship support and capital campaign fundraising. I served on the school board in 2015-16, filling out the remainder of a prior member’s term.

Name two of your top priorities for the district? And how will you handle them?

 I want to see West Side move forward on its recently adopted strategic plan, working toward such goals as identifying and implementing best practices from top school systems in the country and in the world as well as devising appropriate funding strategies. I will recommend that the administration make this a point of emphasis and offer to serve on any of the committees where my input might be valuable. 

The school district needs to begin plans to renew the school funding referendum. One of the first steps will be to review current expenditures from that fund to ensure that the money is being spent productively and wisely. That will allow us to determine what the needs are for the next referendum so we can begin educating the public as to what the school needs and why.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the district? How would you propose to solve or deal with it?

COVID is the biggest immediate challenge, and the school system is doing a good job addressing it under the circumstances. The situation remains fluid and the school needs to remain flexible. The next challenge will be the impact on local government finance caused by a COVID-stricken economy. Given the statutory funding processes, this impact will probably hit hardest in 2022 and 2023. The district needs to work with local legislators to ensure the state protects school funding, look for additional sources of revenue and identify funding priorities in the event budgets for necessary items need to be cut.

How do you rate the performance of the current West Lafayette Community School Corp. superintendent and administration?

We have the best school system in the state and one of the best in the country. There is always room for improvement. For example, I am aware that there have been complaints about communication; there are students who feel excluded due to qualities such as race, social class, gender, disability and sexual orientation; and we can do more to remove socioeconomic barriers to education.  Overall, however, the school district has performed on a high level.

How do you rate the district’s handling of the coronavirus shutdown and reopening? What, if anything, should the district do differently going forward?

Under the circumstances, West Side did a respectable job. Our knowledge about COVID is incomplete and was even more so at the time of the shutdown. School administrators were at the mercy of decisions made, made slowly, changed or not made at all by others at the federal, state and local levels. Hindsight being 20/20, I think a steadier line of communication about the school’s decision-making process would have been helpful. Other than that, the school needs to remain adaptable as the situation continues to evolve.

Some students and alumni have challenged the district’s curriculum and hiring practices, demanding what they called “anti-racist education.” Do you believe their criticism of the district was fair and on point? What should the district’s response be?

It’s clear that issues such as race, sexual orientation and gender still need a lot of work in our society. Nobody should be made to feel excluded, ostracized or otherwise put in a lesser position because of who they are, and so criticism where the district has fallen short is fair. The recent social media initiatives have brought those issues home to me in a more visceral way. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, in-service training for teachers and more representation in history and literature course work, for example, seem like good places to start. I’d want to work with teachers to draw on their professionalism for options and also look to the practices of schools who have had success in addressing these issues.

Name two specific things that separate you from your opponents and why they matter.

I am the county attorney for Tippecanoe County government and have a great deal of experience in municipal law. My background with local government finance, public purchasing, open door and public record laws, personnel issues and constitutional law will assist me in addressing many of the issues that are important to the school. Unlike the challengers, I have previous school board experience, and unlike the incumbents, I have been away from the board for four years, giving me a fresh perspective and new energy.

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