WISD Trustee Candidate: Matt Authier

WISD Trustee Candidate Matt Authier

WAXAHACHIE — Matt Authier and six other candidates are vying for a place on the Waxahachie Independent School District Board of Trustees. Voters will take to the polls on May 9 to cast a ballot for their preferred choices to fill three of seven seats that are up for election.

Matt Authier

1) What personal background information would you like to share with voters, such as your family, hobbies, personality, etc?

I am an ordained elder at Central Presbyterian Church, where I also serve as the youth director and an active member of the Mission Ministry Team. In addition, I helped establish an outreach program called Second Saturday Service, where local community members perform service projects for local agencies and individuals in need. My heart is for the kids in our community; therefore, I have spent a great deal of my time as a mentor at Presbyterian Children’s Home and Services. My wife and I have two boys, Anderson and Brooks.

2) What professional experience, community service and other qualifications do you have that would make you an effective trustee?

After graduating from Texas A&M University with a Master’s Degree in Finance I attained my certification as a Certified Public Accountant, licensed through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy. While employed as an auditor at Deloitte and Touche, I audited local school districts, including Mansfield ISD and Dallas ISD.

Currently, I am employed by RR Advisors LLC, an investment advisor, where I serve as Fund Controller over oil and gas and private equity investment funds. I am a member of the Texas Society of CPAs.

I have spent the last five years giving most of my time to our church, where I serve the youth as their youth director, and the chair of the mission ministry team. I am also a member of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce, where we support local businesses and the role they play in our community.

Click a name to learn more about other candidates.

Matt Authier
Gary Fox
Joe Langley
Shannon Moyers
Clay Schoolfield
Theresa Smithey
James Villarreal

3) Do you currently have any children attending a WISD school or have you had any children attend a WISD school in the past and how long ago was it?

My wife and I have two young boys who will enter the public school system in WISD very soon. Our two boys have their entire school careers ahead of them. Kate and I are committed to the public school system for our children. We pay for public education, via our property taxes, whether we like it or not, and I feel strongly about making the return on that investment as rewarding as possible.

4) How long have you lived in Waxahachie?

My wife and I are from Corsicana, both attended Texas A&M University, and then moved to Waxahachie in 2010. I know what it is like to grow up in a community like Waxahachie, work through high school to put myself through college, and the foundation those efforts laid for a fulfilling future. We felt something special about this community the moment we walked around the courthouse square. We knew this would be our home, and the place we wanted to raise a family and invest our time and efforts to help build a better Waxahachie for generations to come.

5) What reasons made you decide to run for the Waxahachie ISD school board?

First, my background is a CPA, auditor, and fiscal conservative. I see our community growing, and with that growth comes the critical task of efficient spending to meet the needs of growth. Our school board needs members that are astute in governmental finance and I will be the only candidate that has hands on experience auditing school district finances and internal controls. As an auditor, my job was to verify, and as a Trustee, I will ensure our tax dollars are being used in the most meaningful ways possible.

Next, I served on the Long Range Planning Committee for the district, and completely enveloped myself in that process. I have spent the last 9 months researching curriculum options, facility’s needs, staffing, attending school board meetings, and talking to parents and educators in our district. With my wife being an educator, we frequently discuss the role of public education in our society. She has hands on experience with what is happening in our school system at the grassroots level, and we are able to have meaningful discussions on those issues, both positive and negative.

As a member of the LRPC, I found myself asking more questions about curriculum and college and career preparedness, while others were talking about land and buildings. I understand the need for facilities, and am not naive enough to think we can grow without new buildings. However, if we don’t start focusing on what happens within those buildings, then we have failed our students, teachers, and taxpayers.

I want our students and educators to be proud of the public education system we have in WISD. We currently have more than 2,500 students in our area, who have decided to attend schools outside of WISD (Life School, Waxahachie Prep, St. Joseph’s, Red Oak, Maypearl, etc). When elected, I will diligently work to ensure that we take the necessary steps to give better curriculum and life learning opportunities in the WISD, as available in any public or private school in Ellis County. I have and will listen to the reasons and needs of those who choose to send their children to other schools rather than the WISD, and will work persistently to correct what they view as roadblocks.

We are at a pivotal time in the life of our community as we embrace for impending growth. How we plan, manage, and embrace that growth, will likely define how our community looks and feels for the next 50 years. I am a part of this new growth. I am someone who chose this community because of what it does offer, and the potential it has to offer families like mine.

I believe that my profession as a CPA, the fact that I have attended WISD board meetings for months and months, my marriage to an educator, my dedication to youth through our church and community activities, and my proven track record of listening, learning, and leading, sets me apart from the other candidates.

6) What experience do you have with complicated budgets?

I am a licensed CPA and spent four years as an auditor for Deloitte and Touche. I spent three years auditing school districts and municipalities, including Dallas ISD, Mansfield ISD, and the City of North Richland Hills. My job was to understand complicated budgets, and more than that, to audit them for reasonableness and accuracy. I continue to do this in my role as an employee of an investment advisor. I see myself having the most firm grasp on complicated budgets the first day I am in office, if elected.

7) In your view, what has the district done well over the last five years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?

During 2008-2012, when many municipalities and school districts had to make severe cuts and staffing reductions, WISD was able to maintain its staff levels. This is a testament to the planning, resource management, and fiscal responsibility our administration and school board maintained during those tough recessive years. Our district was able to keep jobs for our educators, when other places were making dramatic cuts to staffing numbers. I commend our administration for those efforts.

During that same time, I wish we had put an increased focus on preparing for growth and how prepared our facilities were for growth. We are now in a really serious situation, where we must react to the growth of the past five years, and prepare for exponential growth that is projected before 2020.

Lastly, we have not yet been able to offer an educational product that is, in reality or appearance, superior to those of charter and private school options in our community. I am not opposed to parents making that decision for their children; I just think there is no excuse why our public school system can’t offer an equal or better alternative. We have over 2,000 kids in our county that have made the decision not to attend WISD schools. That has to change and we must offer more creative and engaging opportunities for our young people to learn.

8) If elected as a trustee, what do you plan to accomplish while serving the district?

I want Waxahachie ISD to be an education destination in North Texas. As we grow, and growth is inevitable, I want the school district to be at the top of the list of why people choose to call Waxahachie home. This means an increased and intentional focus on the academic experience that our students and educators have each time they walk away from of our campuses. We need an increased focus on college and career preparedness. For students on the college track, we need to prepare them early (7th/8th grade) for PSAT/SAT/ACT exams.

Our junior high and high school campuses need to have full time counselors assigned specifically to ensuring our students and parents are inundated with information related to preparing for college.

On the other hand, some of our students will not have the ability or have the desire to attend college. We need to identify these students early and put them on a track to develop a skill set that will equate to success post high school. This means a more effective approach to Career and Technical Education.

Also, I want to ensure that each campus has the personnel needed to help the students in WISD be successful. We are understaffed in our special education programs across the district, and students enrolled in these programs make up nearly 10% of our students. A brighter light needs to be placed on our special education programs.

Further, we have wonderful teachers in WISD, and we need to ensure they are developing as educators, and give them the opportunities to engage in effective training to meet those development goals.

9) What do you feel are the top three issues facing WISD and what will you do as a trustee to address those issues?

On a larger scale, I feel as though our school district is failing behind the curve of our surrounding communities. A number of our communities are making serious investments in public education, and we are approaching a point where we must match and exceed that commitment to our public education system in the WISD. The investment by our neighboring districts is not merely facilities, but in human capital (staffing) and a vision for what public education means in their communities moving forward. I will be proactive in coming up with ways to address the investment we need to make in our facilities and in our people. That should always be the goal of true long range planning.

We need an increased focus on college and career readiness. I want to see our district make strides in better preparing our students for college entrance exams, and having advocates that work on our students’ behalf to help with the entrance process. Alternatively, we have some students who will not attend college for any number of reasons. We need to prepare them, early, for life post high school. Our school district has a number of years to help equip each student with a set of skills to prepare them for a career post high school. This means an intentional and high touch focus on Career and Technical Education.

The third area that I feel needs to be addressed is special education. In our district, nearly 10% (800 students) of enrolled students participate in special education programs. We are understaffed as a district with only 7% of our teaching staff assigned to those students. I have spent a great deal of time speaking with parents and advocates of our students with special needs, and they are not happy with the attention their children are receiving from the district. To address this, we need to shine a brighter light on this portion of our student body, and that starts with adequate staffing.

10) What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?

I will do my best to be morally principled, educated, and perpetually prayerful in every decision I make as a board member. I will always ask myself does this decision equitably impact every student and/or educator in our district, and if not, what can we do to make that happen. I will study, ask tough questions, and make sure that every tax dollar spent is the most prudent use of our mission to educate in WISD. Lastly, I will always ask for input from the public. The public votes this position into office as their voice and advocate for our community.

11) If a parent or principal comes to you regarding, for example, a maintenance issue at a particular campus or a situation involving a particular teacher, how do you see your role as a school board member in resolving the issue?

I welcome parents and educators bringing issues to me as a board member. In fact, I view this as a mandate of the position to which I am seeking election. Once receiving that issue, I would escalate it to the appropriate administrator in the district and then ensure it is addressed in a timely manner.

12) What are your thoughts on the current WISD outstanding debt principal? According to WISD, the district currently has $115,092,535 in outstanding debt principal that represents debts from the 1997 bond issue through 2013 refunding bonds issued. Future repayment obligations through 2037 call for $131,375,577 in interest payments resulting in total payments of $246,468,111.
(Source: http://www.wisd.org/default.aspx?name=BUS_Debt)

Debt is something that we all would rather do without, personally and as taxpayers. However, as a community grows, rapidly in our case, facilities will be needed. In the past decade, we have added a number of new campuses, and put money towards others that needed renovations. I think the important thing about debt, as it relates to school districts, is using that debt to the best and most effective use to educate every child. The difference I hope to make on the board, is making sure that when we do ask for more tax dollars from the public, it is for an amount that provides the most cost benefit to each student and educator.

13) Voters approved two bonds in March 2010 totaling $28,120,000 thus resulting in a property tax increase of 6.9 cents per $100 of assessed value.
(Source: http://www.wisd.org/docs/1-Bond%20Brochure%20color.pdf)

13a) What is your opinion of the 2010 Proposition One bond referendum? This bond totaled $22,175,000 and was used to renovate the softball field at WHS, renovations to Richards Park, renovations at the district's baseball complex and renovations and expansions to Lumpkins Stadium. Of the total bond amount, $20,139,780 was for Lumpkins Stadium alone. This resulted in a property tax increase of 4.4 cents per $100 of assessed value. This bond passed with a narrow margin of 78 votes: 1,042 FOR and 964 AGAINST.

This portion of the 2010 bond, in hindsight, is really tough for me to understand. I will preface this with 2010 being the year Kate and I first moved here, and this had already passed when we arrived. So, I was not aware of the campaigning reasons for either side of the bond. I think a bond as tightly contested as this one was, really shows how tough of a decision it was for voters. If I were on the board at this time, I would have asked the question “When are we going to need a new high school and where will it be?” I struggle with putting twenty million dollars into a stadium that was not going to be attached to a potential new high school five to ten years down the road. Ideally, a new stadium would have been built on the new site of the high school and on one central location. However, I am told the stadium was in poor condition, not up to accessibility standards, and needed renovations. I am just not sure twenty million was the right solution at that point in time.

13b) What is your opinion of the 2010 Proposition Two bond referendum? This bond totaled $5,945,000 and was used for campus renovations to 11 of the district's 13 school facilities. The impact on the property tax rate was 2.5 cents. This bond passed by a margin of 750 votes: 1,372 FOR and 622 AGAINST.

Having done my research on the state of the district at this time, this portion of the bond was necessary to update, secure, and better equip nearly every campus in our district. These tax dollars had a direct and daily impact on nearly every educator and student in WISD and that should always be the focus when we ask for increased funding from our tax base. I am for a bond that will positively impact every student and educator.

14) What is your opinion on the $125 million bond referendum the WISD board members recently called that will result in a property tax increase of 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed value if passed by voters? Are you for or against the bond and what are the reasons behind your position?

I am for the public having a voice on the bond package as presented. As a member of the Long Range Planning Committee, I take ownership in the package being presented to the community. My reasoning for voting yes to present it to the community, was due to current facilities being overcrowded, added to that the age of the current high school (approaching 50 years), compiled with 5 year growth projections. With the construction of a new high school, three campuses are opened up for students: the 9th grade center becomes a third junior high, and Wilemon and Turner are available for two additional elementary campuses.

With current enrollment numbers, compiled with 5-10 year growth projections, we knew we would need to significantly renovate the current high school campus (at a likely cost of $60MM plus), add an additional elementary campus (~$15MM) to alleviate pressure of growth, and a third junior high (~$40MM). The scenario I just mentioned had a price tag nearly approaching that of the current bond, at $125MM. I am not for spending tax dollars and raising taxes for the sake of doing so. This plan allows for the best use of facilities, with the fewest construction projects needed in the next 5-10 years.

Facilities are important to providing the technical, scientific and communal resources in which to study, educate and communicate. However, how and what the students are taught and the opportunities they are given should always be our highest priority. As the only finance professional on the WISD Board of Trustees, I will make sure to be your representative that watches that your tax dollars are spent where you believe they are needed most. I would be honored to have your vote.

15) Is there any additional information that you feel voters should know about you?

We need people with professional experience in the financial arena on our school board. I am able to immediately understand, without months of coaching, financial statements and the impact financial decisions have on our community and tax dollars. I have and continue to do this for a living and have been successful in the financial sector.

I look forward to working with fellow board members and assisting our superintendent in addressing the challenges public schools face in today’s environment. I would be honored to have your vote.

For more information related to my campaign, please visit www.mattforwisd.com or on Facebook at Matt Authier for WISD School Board. My campaign treasurer is Dr. Mackey Morgan.