Greetings and welcome to my campaign.

My name is Stephen Austin, and I am running for MoCo BOE, At Large.

I am committed to keeping kids in neighborhood schools

WHY I am running:

Today, there are only two sitting board members with kids currently attending MCPS schools. I think there need to be more. The BOE has allowed itself to become heavily influenced by groups that simply have no skin in the game. Ask any parent if they want their kids at a school that is FARTHER away, and you will hear a resounding “NO”. Yet that’s exactly the path the BOE has been heading down due to outsized influence from special interests and radical activists. I am running to center the core influence back to the main stakeholders – the parents and taxpayers of MoCo.

I want to use my financial expertise to ensure that the money needed to fund MCPS into the foreseeable future is there, and that we can focus resources more effectively to close the achievement gap. We need to employ creative measures to free up resources that have not been tried in the past. Some ideas could include optimizing real estate holdings more effectively, innovative partnerships on underused holdings, along with the improved operational efficiency. The fact is that future budget increases will be more challenging as demands on the county budget increase. As it stands, the County Executive is currently pushing back on requests for increase in 2021. We need innovative solutions to ensure that MCPS has the funds it needs no matter what pressures come from the county revenues.

A big difference between my opponents and myself is how we go about closing the achievement gap. Being a data guy, I prefer data-driven methods with demonstrable results. I am not in the political rhetoric camp that pits communities against each other and drives a wedge in our ability to talk about best practices. How do we make the schools better? The proposals of my opponents try to rezone the clusters and move kids on to longer commutes to achieve “socioeconomic diversity”. It’s a politically-derived desire that has very little data to back it up. In fact, we have years of research showing that doing this has little to no positive impact on closing the achievement gap. So how can we do it more effectively? I propose to start with running a full audit of the MCPS system, and documenting where the addressable resource deficiencies lie. Fix those first. At the same time, we need the teachers MUCH more involved in helping close the achievement gap. There is a case study on JoAnn LeLeck Elementary School at Broad Acres, a 90% FARMs school where this was tried and delivered amazing results. The key was a motivated principal and empowered teachers, along with some financial incentive. We can do this again, and scale it – especially if we have an audit that also allows us to identify unnecessary expenses that can be eliminated.

When I was a young child, my father was a metal trades teacher at Katy High School before becoming an engineer.  My family has always had deep respect for educators, and I am an advocate for the profession.  MCPS teachers need more time for lesson planning, more support staff, smaller class sizes where beneficial, and more effective training.  The mental health team, in particular, needs more people.  I plan to utilize my professional finance expertise to help improve budget efficiency, which can hopefully free up more funds for teacher and staff hiring.  The budgeting at each department currently gets a set amount every year, with no determination of where those funds will be utilized.  At the end of the fiscal year, whatever is left gets spent on whatever the department sees fit.  There has to be a better way to do this and return any extra monies to a general fund.  With any degree of predictability, that fund could potentially be directed to salaries.

 

ABOUT ME

I am a dad, a husband, a finance professional, and a newly minted community activist through my founding of the Facebook group, Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools, and a 501c4 that bears the same name.  The group is currently 7500 members and growing. 

I am originally from Texas, where I lived a rough life as a child, in a broken home with a single father.  He lost his job in the oil industry collapse of the 80s and I became a FARMs eligible kid as we moved multiple times.  Our house was foreclosed, and I went to 3 different schools in 7th grade.  It was a rough time, and one that taught me very valuable lessons that uniquely apply to the current debate on closing the achievement gap without randomly moving kids around the county.  

 I was able to transcend my childhood adversity, and attended the University of Texas, where I worked my way through school to earn a bachelors in Studio Art and Computer Science.  From there, I moved to NYC to become an engineer, and eventually made the shift to asset management.  I currently help manage assets for a pension fund, and I enjoy painting as well as spending time with my family.  I never intended to get involved in politics, but seeing how willfully out of step the BOE has been with the parents of MoCo, I decided to get involved. 

That means that I am not doing this for political aspirations.  I have no desire for higher office.  I am running for BOE to improve education for ALL kids in MCPS.  Therefore, I will not be beholden to special interest activists or party pressure.  I am going into this with a well-defined mission, and I will not waiver in reaching it. I don’t view our kids as a “problem to be fixed”.  I believe all kids are capable of greatness, and we just have to give them the proper environment to get there. I hope I can count on your support and in turn, provide you with solid representation and a strong voice that listens to the parents of MoCo.