Filling Out the Oak Leaves Newspaper

Oh, this is what I do at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night, filling out another candidate questionnaire, this one from the Oak Leaves newspaper. Mostly the same questions as other questionnaires, although with a few differences:

> Why are you running for election to the board?

I’m finishing up a four-year term on the Oak Park library board, and I hope that my extensive educational experience (as both a long-time student and a professor) can offer some helpful perspectives on the D200 board.

> What are the biggest challenges currently facing District 200 and what can the school board do to address them?

• adapting to the pandemic and its consequences will necessarily impact both the budget and day-to-day logistical planning; although we can hope that much of the community will be vaccinated before fall semester starts, masking will almost certainly need to continue through the fall, and I’d be looking to science and evidenced-based research to guide the board on appropriate actions

• as we continue to implement the IMAGINE plan at OPRF, I expect that each new phase will bring its own challenges along with concerns from the community; the board will need to be ready to explain its decisions (and possibly revise plans if needed by changing circumstances)

• keeping a focus on equity and a level playing field for all our students will require balancing complex needs and demands from various stakeholders, listening thoughtfully to community concerns, and working together to craft concrete and measurable steps towards improved equity

> What is most in need of change or improvement in the district and what do you think the board can do to facilitate this?

There are significant barriers along racial, ethnic, class, and gender lines that make it impossible for our students to work to their full potential; given the wider society we live in, this isn’t surprising, but in Oak Park & River Forest, we have an opportunity to increase educational opportunities for all of our students. The prior board and our outgoing superintendent have put some ambitious racial equity policies in place that will help to address some of these issues; the incoming board and superintendent will have the opportunity to support those initiatives and expand upon them.

> Should the board vote on education plans when it comes to how many hours or days per week students learn remotely?

Typically, I’d expect that the superintendent and staff would present a plan to the board, and that the board would respond to that plan, in a back-and-forth until all were in reasonable agreement. In a pandemic when the situation was changing rapidly and we were all learning on the job (building the plane as we tried to fly it, as many educators were saying last spring), I’d expect the board to give clear guidance to the staff on general expectations, and then let the staff bring their expertise to the actual day-to-day curricular and logistical plans. So no, the fine details of how many hours or days students learn remotely don’t seem appropriate matters for a board vote.

> When should full-time in-person learning resume at the school?

In general, I’m always going to say to follow the science and used evidence-based decision making. Every week, we learn more about this disease (and its variants), and how to best contain and treat it. Given current CDC guidelines for social distancing, I’m expecting that we’ll be in hybrid mode in the fall; I teach at UIC, and that’s what they communicated to us this past week. But the situation could change, and change again, depending on how quickly the vaccines roll out (with the J&J vaccine just approved this past week, for example, that will change availability for the better), how quickly pediatric vaccines are developed and approved, etc.

> Should the school district commit to further campus renovations at this time?

Yes — we should continue with the facilities plan.

> Are there cost savings you believe the board should be pursuing for the district? If so, in what areas?

I’m still fairly immersed in the library budget; I’m looking forward to looking at the D200 budget in more detail if elected. But that said, my experience on the library board was that there really weren’t a lot of obvious cost savings that hadn’t already been addressed — previous boards had already picked all the low-hanging fruit in that regard. We have been able to build in some savings, but it’s generally through things like technology improvements — switching to LED lights, for example, which will save us a lot of money in the long run.

> How would you rate how the district has addressed equity and inclusion amongst its diverse population of students. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the district’s work?

This is a pretty special place — there’s a reason why my husband and I chose to come here to raise our mixed-race kids. Historically, this community has been working on these issues for decades, and in many ways, are ahead of neighboring communities and the country. But that said, this is a long road, and we still have quite a ways to go. It’s not the time to rest on our laurels, but rather to take the initiative and push forward, so that all of our students can achieve to their full potential and thrive in the school environment, and beyond.

> What is your profession?

I’m a writer and English professor at the University of Illinois.

> What town do you live in?

Oak Park.

> What else would you like voters to know?

Here are a few useful links:

My candidate web page: http://mohanrajforoakpark.com

My Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anne_Mohanraj

My personal website: http://www.maryannemohanraj.com

Your Vote Is Your Voice

Another meet-and-greet I’ll be at, if you can’t make tomorrow’s and would like to come ask me political questions.

https://fb.me/e/22PIk8j7S

Meet the Candidates

I wanted to take a moment to talk about why people might want to go to candidate meet-and-greets. They honestly weren’t on my radar before the last election cycle, when Trump’s election got me much more civically engaged on that front. I suspect a lot of my friends (and readers here), even if they care a lot about political issues, have never been to a candidate meet-and-greet, and may not understand what they’re for.

So I’ll say first that there are different purposes that might be in play. Some of these events are specifically fundraising sessions — the candidate comes and makes their pitch to you, and then if you’re so moved, you write a check (or send via Venmo, etc.). If you’re invited to a meet-and-greet for someone at the state or higher level, there’ll generally be some kind of fundraising component.

But that’s strictly voluntary — you can come, eat the cheese and drink the wine provided by the host, and if you decide after you hear the candidate speak that you don’t want to support them in that way, you should feel free to walk out without donating a penny. You can also support their campaign by volunteering; there’s often a volunteer sign-up available.

You’ll also probably get at least a few minutes to talk one-on-one with them, if you like, which I think is really interesting. Even just hanging out on the fringes as they talk to other people is interesting; you get a different view of the candidate than you’ll get from their canned campaign speeches and polished website.

For local politics, there’s often very little or no fundraising involved, for things like school board races. It’s much more about just meeting the candidates; the meet-and-greet is a chance for you to ask them your burning questions.

It’s also a chance to tell your story, especially if you have an issue relevant to the office. If you have a kid who’s had a hard time with remote learning during the pandemic, it’s absolutely appropriate to talk to a school board candidate about that. (Conversely, if remote learning has been amazing for your kid, and you want some version of it to continue into the future, that’s also worth telling them about.)

The meet-and-greet is a chance for you to learn about and assess these people; it’s also a chance for you to potentially influence them. So I’d like to encourage everyone reading this, if you haven’t been to a local candidate meet-and-greet before, try to get to one this local campaign season (where we are, the election is April 6, so we’re in the heat of it now).

Right now, they’re mostly on Zoom, which makes it particularly easy — even if you’re not the most extroverted person, you can join into a Zoom call and just listen, or maybe type a question into the chat.

I’m going to post a link to my next meet-and-greet (tomorrow at 2 p.m.) into the comments. I’ll note that while it’s aimed at locals (Oak Park & River Forest), I’m totally fine with others dropping in, if they’d just like to see what this format is like. Just please let the actual local voters ask their questions first, please. Thanks!

If You Missed the SEOPCO Community Forum

If you missed the SEOPCO community forum last night and have questions for me about D200, please don’t hesitate to join me this Saturday at 2 p.m. on Zoom.

Or if you know all about me, but still have questions for Cate Readling, who is running for Village President, feel free to join and just pester Cate instead. Depending on how many people are attending, we may go into breakout rooms for separate discussions.

Comment below or PM for Zoom link!

Survived Community Forum Number 2!

(Apologies to candidates if I caught you at a bad moment in this screenshot). Thanks to SEOPCO for hosting a fascinating discussion. For those who couldn’t attend, it was recorded, and they’ll be putting it up shortly. Onwards to April 6! (Vote early if you can. 🙂 )

League of Women Voters Video

The League of Women Voters has put up the video from the D200 candidate forum that they held a few weeks ago. Note that they had some technical issues at the beginning, so it may take 15 or so minutes before we start, and then it’s maybe the second question before all the candidates have their videos turned on. But we all got there eventually. 🙂

SEOPCO Candidate Forum for D200

A little more info on tonight’s SEOPCO candidate forum for D200 (OPRF high school board), just so people know what the format will be like:

“Each of the six candidates will provide a two minute introduction, then we will ask you two rounds of questions with a two minute response per question….

After that we will put you in separate zoom rooms and participants will join a room and ask whatever questions they have. While we hope to have a SEOPCO board member in each room, we are asking you to ‘host’ your own room. Just introduce yourself and ask for questions. We will request that everyone rotate around to different candidates after about 10 minutes.

We are giving you one of the forum questions in advance, and the second one will not be revealed until we ask at the forum.

First question: Like the rest of the nation, Oak Park and D200 are grappling with issues of discrimination based on racism, Islamophobia, ableism and LGBTQ rights. What steps are you taking to learn more about these issues and how would you address bias in your service to the high school?

We plan to record both the main session and the breakout rooms. Please let us know if you don’t want your Zoom breakout room recording to be put online.”

“Please sign up in advance using this google form: https://forms.gle/8NEjucgDR3X9GqhG7 — Zoom details will be sent to you before the forum.”

When We Talk About Medicare-for-All…

I want to ask Americans to add up all they paid for healthcare in the last year — doctor’s visits, prescriptions, hospital stays, etc. This includes all the people who supposedly have ‘good’ insurance through their jobs.

Then ask if they’d be willing to pay that same amount in taxes instead, which would ALSO enable ten of their neighbor families to have health care who can’t afford it under our current system.

I haven’t actually done the math on this, so I’m not sure how it pencils out. It might be a hundred families instead. And what most folks would end up paying in taxes (compared to their prior costs) would probably also go down quite a lot.

I just wish we could get past the reflexive:

• ‘people who want to raise taxes want to take our money’…

to the actual case, at least for me as a politician, that

• ‘people who want to raise taxes are usually trying to leave everyone in the community with MORE money in their bank accounts AND better services for more of the community…”

Two Upcoming Candidate Events

I wanted to note two upcoming candidate events I’ll be at this week:

– this Tuesday 3/2, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., the South East Oak Park group (SEOPCO) is hosting a candidate forum for D200 candidates, which I’ll be attending; all are welcome. I think this is the right info for it: “Please sign up in advance using this google form: https://forms.gle/8NEjucgDR3X9GqhG7 — Zoom details will be sent to you before the forum.”

– this Saturday 3/6, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., I’ll be hosting a Zoom meet-and-greet with myself and Cate Readling; Cate is running for Oak Park Village President. We’ll introduce ourselves briefly, and then will be happy to answer questions. Just comment below or PM me if you’d like an invite to that!

My Profile in the Wednesday Journal

Profile of my candidacy in the local Wednesday Journal.

https://www.oakpark.com/…/d200-candidate-wants-to…/