Amanda J. Massie

candidate for 2019 District 200 School Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 200?

The final catalyst for my candidacy was “America to Me”. After watching the series at OPRFHS and participating in the group discussions there, I decided that just showing up, speaking and pressing for responsible action on racial equity and facility issues wasn’t enough. I needed to “walk the talk”.

I possess valuable skills, experiences and perspectives that would benefit District 200. I worked in accounting for many years, and I understand budgets, expenses and revenues. I was also a manager for more than ten years, so I know how to collaborate with other people including administration and upper management. I am in an interracial marriage, and my husband and I have two sons who are in their 20s. Having lived all over the country, I am very aware of racial issues regarding our marriage, children, teenagers and young adults. Being retired, I have the time to do this job.

2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?

An effective school board member must balance the equity, educational and extracurricular needs of ALL students, while remaining within a balanced budget. The overburdened taxpayers must be considered in every fiscal decision.

3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the District 200 Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the School Board, District staff, and Oak Park River Forest High School itself?

The purpose of the Board is to provide equitable educational excellence for ALL students in a positive learning environment and to honor the trust that the community has placed in the Board to practice prudent fiscal decision making with every tax dollar.

The relationship between the school board, staff and the high school itself is one that needs to be collaborative and flexible. Rigidity won’t work.

4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

When I worked as a supervisor, I had to balance competing interests, the needs of the company and the needs of the employees. It was a daily challenge. Communication was key. It was important to communicate needed outcomes clearly to the employees. I was also responsible for maintaining a work environment that was safe and positive. In my position as a supervisor, it was all about collaboration and balance, balancing the employees’ needs with the company’s need for the optimal outcome.

5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Transparency is being clear, honest, open and straightforward in all matters and communicating to all parties involved. In this case, it would be students, teachers, administration and the community. If changes are involved, we must ask if they are necessary changes or expenses and all the information must be communicated at that time to all the parties.

One of the ways I’d put transparency into practice is to advocate that the board meetings are live streamed and then linked to the website for future viewing by the public. This would allow parents, teachers and community members to view the actual meetings live or at their convenience. Many cannot attend the meetings, but want to know what the board is discussing and voting on. This would greatly improve communication and transparency of the Board and the administration. Currently, the clerk is taking minutes that aren’t often available for weeks, sometimes months. This proposed communication change would eliminate any possibility of comments not recorded accurately and completely. The Village of Oak Park already uses this method of recording meetings and minutes. Not having this communication method in place in this day and age is unacceptable.

6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?

If elected, I intend to continue going to different group/board meetings seeking information and asking questions. My priority will be OPRFHS. Board members can always be reached by email, and I would welcome correspondence from all residents, replying to each email. All voices are important. And, there are no “dumb” questions. D200 now responds via email within two weeks to questions asked during public comment. This is a positive change. Once D200 live streams and links video of its meetings and minutes on its website, it will greatly improve its transparency and communication to the community.

7. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?

I have been in an interracial marriage for 28 years, and have been challenged with race issues personally and professionally and with my two sons. Their experiences as young men of color have resulted in new situations for me as their mother.

Also, I volunteer at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry. I help deliver meals to homebound seniors. This opens me up to a demographic group I had no real communication with previously.

I have been learning more about sexual orientation differences as well as the racial equity issues at OPRFHS through reading, attending group and Board meetings, such as the “America to Me” series at OPRFHS and asking a lot of questions.

I still have much to learn. I find that listening to those who know more than I do is an invaluable learning tool. I’ve also found that the quiet, reserved people, when asked, have much to say and contribute to a subject or conversation.

8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?

The most useful sources of information about secondary education have come from attending OPRFHS Board meetings over the last three plus years as well as the experience with my sons attending two different public high schools. The Board meetings have given me the most in-depth knowledge.

One particular meeting I stayed until 11:15pm. What I realized and what I publicly said to the Board, was that OPRFHS is actually like a little “city” with all that is needed to run it. I also conveyed that I wish more parents would come and see what it takes to run OPRFHS. It is very layered and complex. That’s where again, video recordings of the meetings would help.

High school is not just about educating students, it’s much more. It’s about preparing them for their respective futures after graduation.

I am reading the book “On The Same Track” by Carol Corbett Burris. It was loaned to me by a friend. It’s about educational tracking, how it began, why it began and what has happened because of it. It’s a very interesting reading and at the same time disappointing and disheartening. But, it’s helpful to know the past so that we can fix what we’re doing now and affect the future positively.

9. Why have property taxes assessed by the District increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the District continue without additional tax increases? How?

D200 overtaxed our community for nearly a decade, amassing $125 million in cash reserves. Community members that I talked to felt betrayed by the overtaxing and a lack of trust in the Board still exists for many taxpayers. The massive cash reserves resulted in some poor fiscal decision making.

The District must, going forward, work with a balanced budget and stick to it. This will help to restore trust in the Board. The District has been operating in the red for years. This can’t continue.

We must prioritize needs vs. wants. The Board must look at all expenses, every line item, every cost. Labor is the greatest cost and is largely a constant. The community demands this accountability and deserves to know that the Board has the community’s best interests in mind and is spending its tax dollars wisely. The Board member’s oath says, “I shall respect taxpayers’ interests by serving as faithful protector of the school district’s assets.” I will do that.

10. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with the need to create an equitable environment for all students?

The comprehensive Racial Equity Policy (REP) is needed and long overdue. It is a priority. If an existing administrator can’t handle the demands of the implementation and its accountability, a new hire may be necessary. We could make this position a temporary position. This way we are not adding additional staff permanently, in case it’s not needed long term. It may well be that the duties of the REP administrator could be assumed after implementation by an existing full time administrator. This would minimize costs and should be considered by the board.

11. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a formal equity lens/framework at District 200, and if so, what specifics should it include? How have you engaged with efforts by the community to push for a comprehensive equity policy?

Educational equity is when every student is engaged in a positive learning environment that is equitable, inclusive and focused on the whole student. Students are given what they need to achieve educational excellence.

I believe it needs to be a formal framework, but one that is still flexible enough to be amended as necessary. Even the US Constitution needed amendments.

I have engaged in efforts to advance the comprehensive racial equity policy by attending student rallies and speaking at Board meetings on the subject. I continue to learn from those who have been involved longer than I have, as well as from reading various articles and attending informational meetings.

12. The incoming board will be responsible for deciding which elements of the Imagine Plan, if any, to act upon. What factors will inform your decisions about whether and when to move forward with the various components of the plan? How will you prioritize these factors?

The current Board has approved the first component with an estimated cost of $32.6 million. It includes 76 classroom renovation/updates, ADA compliance needs, common space, moving the library and tutoring center to middle of the school and the beginning stages of the student commons. I’m in favor of this component because it will directly affect educational facilities for all students.

I believe the priority of any facility plan should be education and educational facilities first. If the roof leaks that must be addressed as an urgent need. Money should be spent on elements of the plan that benefit the most students.  

Athletics are an important part of high school. One of our sons swam and played water polo, the other played football and was a track athlete. High school athletics was a big part of our family life, as it is for many families. Athletics are an important extracurricular activity, however, the community is telling me that the priority is educational needs first. We have limited dollars to spend.

As each new phase or component is being considered, the Board must step back and once again reevaluate the plan. We can’t go blindly from one component to the next. Each time the board must prioritize and reevaluate. Needs first, then wants, as we can afford them.

13. America to Me focused national attention on Oak Park River Forest High School, and in particular on issues of race, equity, and the opportunity gap. How do you expect that will affect your tenure on the Board?

The documentary series, “America to Me”, was the final catalyst for my candidacy. So, for me, it’s personal. Being that my sons are interracial, “America to Me” affected me deeply and, if elected, it will affect my tenure. The Racial Equity Policy must be implemented as soon as it’s ready. It must be measurable and include benchmarks to assess its implementation.  We must be ready to amend it as needed.

14. District 200 makes use of some restorative practices through the Courageous Conversations program. In your view, has this initiative been successful? Do you see additional opportunities to employ restorative justice practices in the District?

These conversations have helped, however, without an implemented Racial Equity Policy, their success has been limited. Once the Racial Equity Policy is implemented, I believe both Courageous Conversations and restorative justice practices will be more successful. We need all three working together to be truly effective.

15. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.

As of 2/14/2018

Bruce Kleinman $999.00

Monica Sheehan $250.00

Noel Massie $2,000.00 approx.

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[The above answers were supplied on 3/25/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]