Baraboo School Board – Candidate Background Questionnaire – 2020 – for James O’Neill for Candidate Forum (Wed, 11 Mar 2020)

School Board
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My Social Media Presences

Candidacy Website:

My candidacy website is still quite rough and will be a continual work in progress: 

My Macro-Policy Website: 

My macro policy site. Interstellar New Deal, is a living site and is changed often:

1. What motivates you to want to become a school board member?

As I have become more politically active and awakened over the last 14+ years I have studied many things trying to figure out why our world is so messed up and to try to find solutions for these many problems we face. I have even blogged about many of those ideas over the years on my blog Free Xenon partly for my own benefit, learning, and journey, but also to, hopefully, help others to understand these complex issues too. I know I have struggled to figure it all out, because there is so very much that is wrong with the world and because the problems we face are complex and are deeply interconnected. I have even created a site to house and to expand upon the many policies I have developed and collected over the years: Interstellar New Deal.

As a Human Right education is the most important thing we invest our time and money in because it forms the universal bedrock for equality, creativity, innovation, progress, peace, class mobility, and the ability of individuals to pursue a fulfilling life and to be able to make a difference within Humanity. It also acts as a bastion to keep a person from being manipulated and taken advantage of. Education spending is one of the few things that should NEVER be cut, and only ever increased because of the far reaching impact of a highly educated populace. The significant return on investment from education spending is hard to argue against.

Unfortunately, the people of the United States have been losing a 50 year long assault against our education system, destroying it sliver by sliver, year by year. We used to be a global leader in education, but now we are bordering on laughable. Our education system has been infected with corporate corruption and inequality at pretty much every level, and our parents and children suffer because of it, feeling voiceless and powerless to help affect change or to effectively advocate for themselves. Our teachers, our parents, our children, our communities, and our country suffers with each and every cut against our education system resulting in a harmful downward spiral.

This needs to stop. We need to reclaim our education system for our children, so that they can compete with the children of the rest of the world, because we are falling behind, very much behind. How can our children and our country compete in an increasingly globalized world when our education system is radically failing? My daughter deserves the best education possible and so do your children and that is what we need to fight for.

We can do better.
We must do better.
Our country and the world depends on it.

We must work together to effectuate change because change is never readily accepted or granted by those who will lose power and influence through it, even if it means harming our children’s futures.

2. What particular skills or experiences qualify you to serve as a school board member?

As far as the general set of skills or experiences –  I am a:

  • husband and a concerned father
  • Navy veteran
  • college graduate with a degree in computer programming and networking
  • small business owner and manager
  • long time political blogger and activist

What sets me apart from the other candidates?
I bring 3 things to the table that, I believe, the other candidates may not:

  1. System Outsider –  I am not a current or former member of the school system unlike the other candidates, so I have not had my point of view limited or biased by experience within the system. I have a more objective and critical view from outside of the system. My view of problems and answers is not colored through the limited lens of thinking through the system.
  2. Understanding of Macro Issues – I have spent the last 14+ years trying to understand why our world is so messed up and how to fix it, and, while doing so, I have concentrated on understanding the macro issues – the larger issues such as poverty, inequality, minimum wage, LGBT issues, climate issues, electoral reform, etc… which effect the entirety of our country.

    These macro issues are very important, because these macro issues drive and even create the local issues, therefore if we do not work towards solving them that any other work we do towards solving issues within the school system will have a limited and temporary effect.
  3. Grassroots Oriented –  “It takes a Community to Raise a Child.” – My approach towards solving the issues that our district faces is community and grassroots oriented. Only through working together can we solve our issues, and we WILL need to work together.

3. How long have you lived in this school district?

  • I am a Baraboo native having graduated from Baraboo High School (1992).
  • Right after graduating high school I served in the Navy for 6 years during the Iraq War (1992-1998).
  • Graduated college in Madison (1999-2002)
  • Started working for the Sauk County Government in Baraboo (Jan 2003)
  • Got married in Baraboo while living in Lake Delton (May 2005)
  • Started a yoga business in Baraboo (Oct 2008) and moved to Baraboo near 2009/2010 to expand the business.

So, our family has been living in Baraboo for about 10 years now, but I have been active here for the last 17 years.

4. In what school or district activities have you been involved?

My daughter goes to East School. 

In preparation for running for school board I have been attending School Board meetings starting around July or so of last year and have attended the various Parent Support Group Meetings at various times during this winter.

5. What are 2-3 needs that must be priorities for our district to address? Why do you see these as needs?

  1. Lack of Parental Power and Representation – Far too much have I heard that parents feel like the district is this black box to which they speak their concerns to and to lobby to help advocate for their children only to be not heard and truly acknowledged. Our parents and children feel powerless and unheard. Protests are the language of the unheard and that is what we are seeing with 4 new people (including myself) running for school board in races that typically have gone unchallenged. Our parents and children want to be truly heard and that has not happened. Our parents and children want their very real concerns acknowledged and addressed and that has not happened. We need change and I am here to bring that change.
  2. Inequality – Our children, who are in the formative years of their lives, are very sensitive to inequality and are powerfully harmed by it which manifests in many ways such as bullying and behavioural issues. Inequality affects not only those children and families who are suffering the most, but it also affects those in the upper and middle classes too. No one is immune to the harms of inequality. The core of almost all problems not just in our district, but all throughout our country stem from inequality.

    The United States has the highest level of inequality in the developed world and the second highest level of childhood poverty in the developed world. Our children and families are suffering. Working towards solving this will be one of the most effective things we can do to make our district better which will not only reduce bullying and behavioral issues, but doing so will increase community trust, engagement, and prosperity, as well as reducing crime. Everybody wins when we reduce inequality. Everybody!
  3. Teacher Turn-Over – We have seen an unprecedented level of teacher turnover in our district especially as compared to other districts in the area. This continuous level of hiring, retraining, and acclimating new teachers to our district is harmful not only to our teachers, but also to our students. Continuous levels of turnover harms teachers and their morale, district loyalty, and general vibrance as a teacher to our students cannot be understated. When our teachers do not feel safe, valued, respected, and supported then how can they truly put their best foot forward each and every day in what is the most important job in our community? How can our district truly advance and mature when, with each teacher lost, we lose their experience, maturity, loyalty, and understanding of the system, families, and their children? How can our children feel safe, valued, respected, and supported when they may fear that their favorite teacher may not be here next year, or if they have to get used to a sea of new teachers each and every year, as well as try to form relationships with new teachers every year? This gives them no level of stability nor a support system that they can rely on.

    Now one wins. We ALL lose, especially our children.

6. If elected, what would you hope would be key accomplishments of the board during your years of service?

  1. Parental Empowerment and Representation – We should first start with working towards empowering and supporting our parents and families. A powerful way to do that is to effectively unionize our parents. Because of how broken our country is and how much our families are suffering we do not support each other and look out for each other as a community. We are all just a bunch of families that live in close proximity. Some families and neighbors who live close to each other do work together which helps, but that is nowhere near enough. With poverty and inequality as high as it is, each family needs a much larger network of support and we can accomplish that by bringing our families together and working together so that we can lift all of our voices up so that we can ALL be heard, so that we can be a part of that solution. It will be harder for our families to be ignored and to have our voices dashed upon the rocks of that black box of the district when all of our parents are speaking out and are working together.

    There is sooo much more to what we can accomplish with this. 
    This is just the tip of the iceberg in possibilities.
  2. Inequality 
    • First, fortunately, the district has been working towards reducing fees for as many things as possible, especially seeing how little money fees generate as compared to the entirety of the school budget. This is something that we need to continue to work towards and to expand as much as possible.
    • Second, the district has created an Equity position which is great, although this position is directed towards a specific organization’s data driven approach to internal district equity, which is great and this is a good step, however we need more, much more than this.
    • We absolutely need to reach much, much farther than the above 2 steps, because the inequality issues we face are more directly and powerfully generated from the outside when our children are at home. Our children do not leave the harms of inequality and suffering when they enter the school. The damage caused by that is a heavy weight they carry with them always through every class, through every meal, through every time they play with other kids. Our parents feel it. Our children feel it. Our teachers feel it. Our community feels it.

      In October of 2018 I facilitated a discussion on poverty and here are the notes I collected for that talk on poverty if you want to begin your journey in learning more:

      We will tap into our now more united, expanded, and somewhat unionized Parent Support Groups which can work with the district and other local businesses and organizations to help reduce and alleviate poverty and suffering to our families and children within the district. For every family and child we lift up we make our school and community safer, more stable, happier, and our children more capable of being the best students they can be than about any other potential solution we could enact.
  3. Teacher Turn-Over 
    1. Teacher Unions – The first part of reducing teacher turnover is working towards supporting and empowering our teachers’ unions and then working to undo the horrific harms of Act 10 which has devastated our schools and unions. This is a long term goal that will require a united teacher’s union, a united parental union, and a united district administration. Only through working together can we hope to apply pressure to the state government and our representatives to undo this damage to our children’s future and the future of our teachers in the district.
    2. Veteran’s Teacher Council – We should formally create a Veteran’s Teacher Council as an  organization which can help to support our teachers especially as they start with the district and to allow our existing teachers to have access to the advice and experience of our veteran and retired teachers. By not having this we have lost the valuable experience that has been created through years of admirable and amazing service to our children, district, and community. Once they have finished their time with the district their expertise and experience does not just disappear. They carry it with them always. Our current teachers need access to this experience and advice.

      This will also, as we are currently seeing with the pressure that the current retired teachers collective is applying to the school board, be a valuable tool to help to effectuate change within the district.

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