How the Killeen Independent School District is handling $426 million in taxpayer money divided newcomers and incumbents in a forum featuring candidates of the May 4 Board of Trustees election.
Several topics were covered at the KISD board candidate forum Monday. One of them was what candidates thought about school district’s changes in plans for bond money after voters approved it.
Nearly 100 residents filled seats inside the Killeen Civic and Conference Center for the forum sponsored by the Killeen Daily Herald. Six of the eight candidates running shared their opinions on the $426 million bond construction program, special education, transparency and more.
Running for Place 1 are candidates Lan Carter and incumbent Shelley Wells. Seeking the Place 2 seat are the Rev. David Michael Jones and incumbent Susan Jones, and running for Place 3 are Stanley Golaboff, Robert People and incumbent Corbett Lawler.
Lawler was absent from the Herald’s forum. His grandson, Ethan Carranza, 12, read a statement on behalf of Lawler, who was with district officials in Washington, D.C. to discuss federal aid for the district. Incumbent Brett Williams, who is unopposed for Place 5, attended as an audience member, but chose not to be part of the panel.
Candidates were quizzed on whether KISD Superintendent John Craft’s pay raise of $42,287, a 15 percent increase, was appropriate for a district this size. It brought Craft’s new annual salary to $310,000. Candidates were also asked whether teachers should have received more than a 2 percent general pay increase this past year — a smaller amount than the board had originally discussed in 2018. Read their responses at https://bit.ly/2HNreHJ.
Candidates also responded to questions about some school construction and renovation projects changing since voters last May approved paying $426 million in property tax money.
Place 1 candidates Wells and Carter heavily contrasted on their views of the bond program. Incumbent Wells said that bond money, according to law, has to be spent the way it was intended to be spent: on safety and security upgrades, ADA compliance, new construction and renovation. Whether it has to be spent exactly on the same projects pitched by the superintendent, she said no, to optimize logistics and cost. Carter flatly said the bond was “not transparent,” and “a huge red flag ... the way it was handled.” The bond campaign should have been carried out at a slower pace, and that the district is losing trust through the way leaders are handling the bond.
Place 2 candidate David Michael Jones questioned the necessity of shuffling students around in the midst of school renovations, calling it “confusing.” For his opponent, Susan Jones, revisions to bond projects offer merit that could potentially boost security and square footage, but said she is never a proponent of spending saved money before it is safe to do so.
Place 3 candidate Golaboff said the two worst mistakes in construction are not sticking to budget and changing plans mid-construction, and accused the district of spending more than $426 million toward bond projects. Fellow Place 3 candidate People said the most important thing is that whenever changes are made, the public is kept informed on exactly what is adjusted. The board needs to be careful, he said, and although he thinks renovations are necessary to some schools, taxpayers need to be aware of what’s happening.
Since a state investigation in 2015 of the KISD special education program, some parents have complained about delayed evaluations of students, staff shortages and insufficient accommodations. How the candidates would address concerns regarding the district’s special education program was also asked of the panel.
Place 1 candidate Carter called out KISD for allegedly not hiring fully qualified special education staff, such as the appointment of Janice Peronto, executive director of special education, and that the KISD human resources department should be audited. Following Carter’s response, Wells said the district isn’t perfect, but staff is constantly evaluating and training. Superintendent Craft, she said, has planned on bringing in aides to help with special education in schools next year.
Place 2 candidate David Michael Jones said all students deserve the opportunity to learn, and if taught properly, can do whatever anybody else can do. He called to do away with “putting (children in special education) in a box.”
Susan Jones said follow-up audits after an original special education audit conducted by the Texas Education Agency have helped the district improve, but added that KISD still has work to improve the experience of about 6,000 students on an individualized education plan.
Place 3 candidate People said he would like to speak to parents and teachers of special education students so he can obtain a full understanding of what he should do as a board member. Golaboff said that while the special education has made improvements, the TEA still labels the program as “needs assistance.” A communication problem between the district and parents exists, he said, and KISD needs to respond to their needs.
Candidates were asked if they would communicate with residents of the district about school issues and finances and how they would do so?
Place 1 candidate Carter said she aims to provide everything board trustees see during meetings to the general public, noting that all presentations are not always readily available to the public. She also said she would maintain an approachable presence on social media. Incumbent Wells said she believes the board is already transparent with board agendas and minutes posted online, televised meetings and accessibility via email and phone.
Place 2 candidate David Michael Jones said the best way to ensure transparency is to talk with the community face-to-face, and follow through with commitments. Susan Jones noted that board meetings are televised, and the board workshops are purposefully held in the afternoon to allow community members to join trustees as they discuss matters.
Place 3 candidate People committed to being upfront with residents, including being honest when he doesn’t know something rather than forcing an answer. One of Golaboff’s goals, he said, was increasing the public’s availability to the school board beyond the public comment period at board meetings every other week. He said residents have only three minutes per person. His methods would be more public forums and easier access online.
Candidate information and more election coverage is available at www.kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics. The Herald will have continuing coverage of the election.