2023 Board of Education candidate Q&A: Ronald Amato

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

This Q&A is a part of The Central Times’ coverage of the 2023 Board of Education election. The election will take place on April 4. For more information, click here.

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: Why did you decide to run for D203’s Board of Education?

A: I have two students that are in that school district right now. My son’s a freshman at Naperville North and I have a daughter who is at Washington Junior High. I’ve done a fair amount in the community as far as nonprofit board activities and things like that. I’ve been on the board for Kids Matter for about six years. I  wanted to get more involved in the community and step up and try to run for school board. At the time, it didn’t really look like there was anybody running initially other than the two incumbents, at least I hadn’t heard about anybody else running. So I said look, somebody’s got to step up. I think with my background and my professional experience, it makes sense for me to give it a shot.

Q: What do you believe makes you qualified for this position?

A: I’m an attorney. I’ve practiced law since 2000, so for about 23 years, and I work for a large insurance carrier now. I’m not an attorney in private practice, but I have a lot of experience in negotiating and working with other people to try to resolve issues and resolve problems, which I think would be very beneficial for a school board member. And then I also have a background in financial matters. I’ve worked for many years around the investment business and financial services industry. I currently serve on the Naperville Firefighters Pension Fund Board as a trustee. And that fund has around $200 million in it. I have experience managing budgets as a nonprofit board member. The school district has a very large budget. It’s over $300 million. I feel that it would be helpful to have somebody on the board that has a little bit of a financial background and is able to kind of roll up their sleeves and get into the budgets. I just generally enjoy working with people, I’ve served on several boards and know how board meetings work. I think that I could work with the board members to help make good decisions and make responsible decisions for the school district.

Q: Should you be elected, are there any specific priorities you would have as a board member?

A: Yeah, I have a couple of priorities. The first is academics and continuing to make sure that the board is doing everything that it needs to do in order to promote academic excellence in the district and make sure that students are doing well academically. Making sure that the district is focusing on improving some of the test scores which measure readiness. A priority definitely is to make sure that the district is supporting students who need additional help. More responsibility with respect to the $300 million budget, just making sure that the district’s spend it spending its money wisely. Making sure that we’re being mindful of the fact that people in our area pay high property taxes. The district or board members when they set the tax levy, they want to make sure they’re being mindful of that and trying to look at creative ways to run the district without consistently raising taxes the maximum amount. One other priority of mine is safety, which encompasses the physical school buildings itself, as far as making sure that the administration is working to keep the school safe, keep students safe. I would like to see students receive a little bit more education as far as how to be safe online when using devices and how to avoid online predators.

Q: Within those priorities, are there any specific 203 policies that you think you would like to see changed?

A: Not really, right now we live in a great school district. That’s the reason why a lot of people move to Naperville, we have pretty good public schools. I’m not really running because I think that the schools aren’t doing a good job or that things need to be changed. I just think there’s certain areas where there [could be] improvement. We just need board members to be making sure that the district’s doing all that it can to provide an excellent educational experience for students.

Q: Should you be elected, you’d be a part of a board of seven people. So how would you plan on working with those other six members?

A: I’ve served on other boards and I know what’s involved with serving on the board, you’re just one person out of the group and you need to be able to work with other people. You need to be able to communicate with other people, and you need to be able to reach a consensus on things where you can move things forward. I think based on my board experience, I’d be able to work with the other board members in order to move things forward. There are times when maybe you don’t agree, but you always need to be respectful and be willing to listen to other people and listen to their positions.

Q What do you believe the role of the Board of Education is? Is it to make sure that the administration does its job, or to take their recommendations and then make policy decisions based on that recommendation?

A I think both of those things are true. Curriculum is developed by people within the administration, who have expertise in that area. Then that’s brought to the board by the administration, and the board approves that as the governing body. Certainly I think the board would have the ability to ask questions, and if they have concerns about certain things. They don’t necessarily have to just ‘rubber stamp’ whatever it is the administration is recommending. But a lot of the decisions as far as managing the schools, that’s really left up to the administration, the board is at a higher level as far as being the governing party.

Q: The Board of Education recently approved a change to high school music programs, requiring students to enroll in some form of a curricular music program in order to participate in extracurricular music groups. The future of the plan will be determined next year, and if you are elected, your vote could swing that decision one way or the other. So what were your thoughts on that decision, and how you might evaluate the changes in the future?

A: I wouldn’t reach a final decision one way or the other [immediately]. If it comes back before the board, I’ll need to listen to what everybody has to say on both sides as far as what they want to do in 2024. I would need to hear what they’re thinking as far as what they’re going to try to do after the next school year and really hear from everybody before I would make any final decision. I did think it was interesting, some of the comments that were raised by students about there [only being] so many courses in their schedule during the day where they may not have time to take a particular music class. They may still want to be involved in an extracurricular band or something where they wouldn’t necessarily want to participate in a curricular music class or take an instruction class, but they still want to be involved in music. And you know, I understand that on a certain level, that makes sense. Then on the other hand, I think the educators want to make sure that they’re able to have enough music teachers in the district and enough students taking curricular courses then it becomes hard to hire enough people and they really have to look at bringing in staff to come in part time to do the extracurricular music. I think that creates a challenge. And then also, as far as making sure that students are proficient, I think that was one of the reasons why they felt the need for technique instruction or curriculum. I see both sides. Personally from what I heard during that meeting, I probably tended to lean a little bit more toward agreeing with the music educators as far as wanting to put the curricular requirements in place. But there may also be some creative solutions where students might be able to test out of that and that might be something that would be good to consider. But I think what they decided on for the coming year seems pretty fair where students are required to take [a music class or receive] technique instruction during a half lunch period one or two days a week. To me, that doesn’t seem like it’s very onerous. But I think looking ahead to what they may want to put in place after next year, I want to hear that whole discussion all over again before I made any kind of a decision one way or the other.

Q: Boards of education in general have become a lot more contentious and come under a lot more scrutiny by the public in recent years with a lot of larger political movements. Do you think that any of the larger things that we’ve seen in our country will affect our board of education specifically? Do you see things becoming more contentious? What would your thoughts on that be?

A: I don’t know that I necessarily see it becoming more contentious. I think among certain groups of people on both sides of the political spectrum, [education] is something that certain groups are very focused on. I think it’s something that could potentially be coming before the school board at some point in some fashion. Curriculum is developed by the administration by the educators, and has to meet the state standards. So as a board member, I think that’s really what you should be focusing on. But there may be some parents who are concerned about certain issues that get people riled up. When that stuff comes up in front of the board, as a board member, I think you want to try to stay neutral, hear everyone out and listen to people on both sides. Try to avoid making any rash decisions until you really are able to gather all the facts and hear from everybody.

Q Is there anything in particular about you that you think sets you apart from other candidates?

A: I don’t want to be critical of other candidates. I obviously respect everybody. My background is a little bit different than some people’s. I’m an attorney. I’ve been licensed to practice law for more than 20 years. I currently serve a city of Naperville commission, and am president of one of the bigger nonprofits in town, I’m on the board of Kids Matter and I’ve been involved with [the Exchange Club of Naperville] for about eight years. I know a lot of people in the community just through my community service, including everybody on city council and the mayor. I think that I bring some things to the table that some of these other candidates probably won’t necessarily have on their resumes.

Q: Give me your final pitch for why people should vote for you.

A: I have a professional background as an attorney and somebody who’s been involved in the financial services industry, and my experience serving on other boards also gives me some experience that would really lend itself well to being on the school board and helping deal with the different issues that come before the school board as far as managing the district, hiring people, firing people, disciplining people, that sort of thing, and also making the financial decisions. I think I generally work with people well, and I’d be able to communicate with the other board members and work as a team. I’m somebody who’s lived in the area for a long, long time. I was born and raised in the area- I grew up in Lisle. I was born in Naperville. My wife and I have lived here for more than 20 years. I have kids in the district. I really care about Naperville, about our schools. That’s why I’m running, because I want to make sure that our schools stay strong, and that Naperville continues to be a good place to raise a family.


For more on the 2023 Board of Education election, click here

For a profile on Amato, click here.