My name is Stephen Austin, and I am running for MoCo BOE, At Large.
I am committed to keeping kids in neighborhood schools
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.