SALINE BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION 2022: Meet Timothy Austin
Timothy Austin is running for the Saline Area Schools Board of Education in the Nov. 8 election. Austin has previously served on the board as president and vice-president. He is one of five candidates for a four-year term on the board, along with Laurie Saims, Sharene Rumohr, Kristin Hoffman-Peavler and incumbent Michael McVey.
In the other school board race, Amy Sontag faces Lauren Gold.
Here is our Q&A with Timothy Austin
Hello, my name Timothy Austin, I was raised in Saline, I graduated from Saline High School, and live in Saline. My wife and I have two children, my daughter graduated last year and currently attending MSU pursuing her lifelong dream of being an elementary teacher, my son is a junior this year and finding his path through our STEM programs. After graduating high school, a friend that I started A&H Lawn Service, Inc. This was supposed to just be a job to help pay for college but we soon realized it could be our career. I am active throughout our community donating time and resources to make Saline a better place for everyone that lives in it or even just passing through. A few years back Pastor Ken @ Keystone Church did a series called Love Where You Live, that has stuck with me and ever since it has been the moto I try to live by throughout my life and our community.
Why are you running & why should voters choose you?
This is a question that has been asked to me many times over the past few months. Some have said your son only has a couple more years, and then you don’t have any kids in the district! Well, I think the quick answer goes back to my moto Love Where You Live. Throughout the summer I talked to many people in the district, hearing concerns. I also knew we have a unique opportunity in Saline this year with the current bond proposal. I think this is important for our district to enhance areas in our district that I feel are lacking.
I was part of the board that saw the 2016 bond passed and have the experience that I feel is needed to navigate through this bond. With all that is going on in our district I felt I needed to step up. This is not about Tim Austin, this is about Saline Areas Schools, this is not just about just my kids this is about all kids and I feel that a strong successful school district makes our community stronger, more united, and gives our kids a brighter future.
Projections show a continued decline in student population in the district. How should the district address this issue?
We have seen our enrollment declining since the 2019-20 school year. With all the construction and housing developments the hope is we will see these numbers start increasing.
When looking at our declining enrollment a number that really sticks out to me is the number of residence students going elsewhere. We have always had some residence students going elsewhere, but the increase is pause for alarm and really needs to be looked at. That number increased by 55 residents from the 18/19 year to the 19/20 year. This number has continued to grow and now increased to 142 residents since 18/19. Saline has always been a destination district for families and staff we should not have to worry about losing students elsewhere that live in Saline. We may need to survey these families to better understand why they are going to other schools.
What are your top priorities and why?
Uniting our community is one area that needs improvement. Our community has had some struggles over the past few years and Covid did not help those struggles. A divided district really hurts our students and staff.
We were always one of the top schools in the state and we are at our best when we are being proactive in our teaching models (Compass & Learner Profile as an example). When administration and staff are being reactive it's hard for us to move forward.
Were you satisfied with the way in which the district handled the pandemic? What changes would you have wanted to see?
When Covid first became an issue, I totally understood and agreed with the drastic steps that schools made. Nobody knew or understood this disease and we needed to take caution. Fast forward to the beginning of the 20/21 school year school boards had to approve the “MI Safe Schools – 2020/21 Return to school Roadmap”. I think we should have done more over time to get kids back in school, allow them to interact with their friends, see their teachers, and be a part of the extracurricular activities. Children will be the ones who lost the most throughout this pandemic with learning loss as well as the social/emotional effects.
Do you support the Saline Area Schools bond proposal? Why or why not?
Yes, we have a unique opportunity in Saline to invest 180 million dollars into our facilities, technology, and transportation, all while we lower our current taxes. Saline still has items that we were unable to finish due to cost creep from the 2016 bond that this will help address. Saline has some nice facilities but, in the end, we still lack the space and lack the investment in our STEAM programs. This bond makes an important investment in these programs. I think it is important to note that bond proposal language has to be very specific, and the district can not deviate from the approved language. I think some believe they will have this money and can use it on whatever and that is not true. I encourage a YES vote on this bond proposal.
Public schools have always played a role in socializing our children. At the same time the debates over societal norms have never been more ardent. In these times, how should the district weigh its societal role against the rights of the parents who don't want some ideas instilled?
As a parent, when my children were born, I told myself I will do everything in my power to give my children the best opportunity to succeed. Now my views of this and someone else’s view of this could be completely different and that is okay, but we cannot discount one another’s ideals of what this might look like. It is not okay to say, well this is a public school so if you want your kids to go to the schools they will have to learn things a certain way. We first need to make sure all curriculum and activities are age appropriate. We need to work with staff to make sure curriculum and assignments don't make kids feel unwelcome, unsafe, or feel bad for who they are. When staff facilitates group discussions these need to be managed so that children don't feel unsafe or unwelcome. We also need to make sure we have policies in place and staff properly trained for parents to opt their children out if they don’t feel they want their children should participate.
What ideas do you have about school security?
It can be the little things the low-hanging fruit such as secured vestibules (thanks to the support of the community for the 2016 bond this was achieved), it can be making sure all outside doors are locked (I hear sometimes they are not). Programs and apps such as OK2SAY are important so that students can speak up when they hear something.
It’s important - things like engaging our community and parents. I believe and will work quickly once elected to see about bringing back the partnership with Saline Police and having an SRO for our Saline Schools. We have a great partnership with Pittsfield Township and would like to see this in Saline as well.
Our job as a board is to make sure as students walk through the doors of their school, they feel welcome, safe and seen! As we welcome our students, and we see those they may not feel as welcome, we take an interest in their lives we are a step closer to being safe.
What should the district to defend children against discriminatory attitudes they face over race, sexual orientation, religion or other traits?
We need to create an environment where all children feel welcome, safe, and seen. Discriminatory attitudes have no place in our schools! When we say, “All Means All”, we mean “All Means All”! A lot has been done over the past few years with the intent to create a more welcoming and inclusive community. These efforts although intended to bring unity seem to have created a more divided community. In an effort to create a more unified community and school district I believe we need to start focusing more on what we have in common and less on our differences. By doing this all will feel welcome.
Saline High School students are scoring lower on college prep tests, a trend that started pre-COVID. What do you make of this trend?
We did see a slight fall in are SAT scores in 2017/18 but the biggest change was in 2020/21. It is easy to understand the drop in test scores during Covid due to how instruction was being administered and some kids found it difficult to learn in this new environment. Prior to Covid it is a little harder to understand or put my finger on. Going forward, in an order to pull these scores back up we need to get back to our core principles of education (reading, writing and arithmetic). We need to create classroom environments that our students can thrive in, which will make it easier for them to learn.
The length of board meetings has become an issue for administrators and engaged public citizens who want to stay abreast of happenings. How should board members conduct themselves in a way that manages business while respecting the time of already-stretched district administrators and employees?
Yes, board meetings have become long, and hard to stay engaged through. As a trustee, we need to do the business of the school district. This requires the involvement of many administrators, and we need to be respectful of their time. I also think this question circles back to other points I have made about our community and the division we see within it. School board meetings for many years were never thought about by our community members. They had a district they trusted was doing what was best for their children and they trusted the district. Now many in the community lack that trust. It will be critical as a trustee to work with other trustees to create unity and trust throughout our community.
Are you happy with the direction of Saline Area Schools? Please explain your answer.
I decided to run for the school board because I felt I could help improve our district. Saline is a destination district for families. Many move to Saline for the schools. Saline has always been a top-performing district and we need to maintain these levels of excellence. We have seen these fall as families choose to take their kids to other schools and academic’s slump. Together through common goals and ideals, we can bring a divided community back. Once we establish TRUST within our community, our curriculum, and with our staff, RESPECT will follow. When respect is gained for one another and for the instructional process, then we can successfully continue our pursuit of EXCELLENCE. Excellence is always a destination but never a stop!
For years Saline was recognized as a destination district for families with students with special needs because of the district's commitment to inclusivity. In recent years parents have raised concerns about the practice of seclusion and restraint. Are you satisfied with the district's actions in this area? Do we need reform? Please tell us your thoughts.
Saline has a great program for these special students. There were some questions raised prior to Covid about seclusion and restraint. I believe an audit of the school’s procedures was going to take place by the ISD but not sure if that was done due to Covid. This is highly regulated by the state and requires a process for the staff to go through when seclusion and or restraint is deemed necessary. For safety reasons it is important to have policies in place this is not only important for the students but also the staff. I believe our staff is looking out for the best interest of our students and their safety.