How the Killeen Independent School District is handling $426 million in taxpayer money isn’t the only hot topic of discussion among challengers and incumbents vying for seats in the May 4 Board of Trustees election.
Beyond the bond, candidates have shared viewpoints on special education, transparency, employee compensation, student discipline, school safety 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.
Carter has years of experience working for Copperas Cove ISD. She has also run campaigns for several political seats, and is an advocate for special education. She said her top three issues are staff compensation, transparency and encouraging more open-door meetings between board members.
She attended Killeen schools and graduated from Killeen High School. Carter has earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and master’s in computer information systems and in counseling psychology. She has taught fifth grade and kindergarten in CCISD.
Wells has served on the KISD board of trustees since 2007. She is a former KISD teacher and a small business owner. Wells serves on the Killeen Education Foundation as the board of trustees representative, and has served on its board of directors since 1993.
She said her top three issues are student learning and preparation for college and the workplace, employee retention and sound fiscal management.
Rev. Jones, a father of 13 children, is the Killeen NAACP first vice president. He has lived in the area since 1994, previously living in the Killeen area in 1977.
Jones, who found out he was dyslexic at a late age, aims to provide an equal platform for all students, and has said it “takes a village” to raise a child. He said his top three issues are educating students, diversity of the district and funding special education.
Susan Jones has lived in Central Texas area for 34 years. Jones has been employed with Extraco Banks since 2008 and is the West Bell County mortgage manager. She was elected to the KISD board of trustees in May 2011, currently serves on the Board Audit Committee, and represents KISD on the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County board of directors.
Jones said she focuses on a detailed budgeting process, ensuring the completion of the voter-approved bond program and employee retention.
Golaboff has resided in the Central Texas area for the last 42 years, having transferred into the district as a fourth-grader and graduating from Killeen High School in 1985.
He is a retired Texas Army National Guard colonel and has worked full-time for the National Guard since 1991.
Golaboff is married to a second-grade teacher at West Ward Elementary who has taught there since 1991. Golaboff has a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Golaboff has focused his campaign on student achievement, employee compensation and transparent governance.
Lawler has been involved with KISD for 39 years full-time and two years part-time, and retired for the last time in 2009. Twenty nine years of his career in education were spent as a campus principal, 22 of those at Killeen High School, from 1980-2002.
Lawler said he aims to boost student performance, ensure campus safety and ensure the completion of the voter-approved bond program.
People has years of Army experience and has lived in the Killeen area for the past three years.
He said his top three issues are teacher salaries, project and construction costs to ensure a balanced budget and student assessments.
Early voting begins April 22 and concludes April 30.
Election Day is May 4.
KISD ELECTION GUIDE QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: The district’s overall standardized test scores have generally lagged below the state average for some grades? What do you think the problem is and how would you address it?
CARTER: Many variables that affect student performance, but a red flag is the STAAR test itself. According to UT Professor Walter Stroup, scores are based on other students’ performance rather than what students learn in the classroom. Let’s also take into consideration our student population: transient military population, homeless students, low income, and other at risks students such as children with special needs that have and haven’t been evaluated. We won’t know the specifics until we study our at risk students, but I do believe the practice of taking Mock STAAR tests rather than continuing to teach content isn’t the answer.
WELLS: Test scores are an important indicator of student achievement. Each grade level and department hold meetings to analyze each student’s test scores individually. They formulate a plan to help each student be more successful. In addition, the district is constantly looking at the instructional strategies our teachers employ to see if they are working and how they can be improved. The district has also hired instructional coaches to help build our teacher’s capacity to deliver expert instruction.
D. JONES: Need to know what grades have a problem. The state test does not give an accurate assessment of a student’s abilities. I believe that returning teaching to the teacher, will be a great help.
S. JONES: Accountability of academic performance is important and must be measured by testing, but what testing model is considered appropriate. Our society is more mobile than it has ever been before. Adding to that consideration is the 27 to 33% mobility rate experienced in KISD due to Military transfers. Public Education serves all children and when they enter our district, they do so at many different levels of academic performance. I suggest that a more recognizable test be administered … such as the ACT or SAT.
GOLABOFF: I’m not exactly sure why our scores are lagging, but based on the historical trend it’s obvious this Board doesn’t know either. And while I don’t have the exact cause today, I believe we can figure it out by reviewing test result data to see where our students are coming up short. Then use that to determine which existing or new programs help correct those shortcomings. Programs that aid in correcting deficiencies should be implemented or used to replace ineffective learning programs. Adding additional teaching staff is also an option we should explore.
LAWLER: Our standardized scores are not bad but we want to have our students perform higher than “state averages”. Part of our problem is student mobility; many of the students we test have not been in our schools very long. Another part of our problem is student preparedness. Many of our students begin their schooling with very little exposure to letters, sounds and numbers. Early childhood literacy programs pose the best hope for improving scores. As early as possible, we need to get our students to be able to read; it is the basis of all subsequent academic performance.
PEOPLE: I would have to find out what is taking place differently in other districts to explain why our scores are lower. However, after speaking with some teachers, they’ve let me know that they feel they aren’t able to fully prepare, nor administer these standardized tests to the best of their abilities. Teachers need to be allowed to be more than just present, but be able to help students when they may be struggling with minor issues. There seems to be a rush to get scores from these tests, and that does not help.
QUESTION 2: Will you communicate with residents of the district about school issues and finances and how will you do it?
CARTER: I have always been a huge proponent of transparency and accountability and keeping the public informed is a must as an elected official. I have and will continue to use the Lan Carter for Killeen ISD Facebook page to educate the public on educational issues. I will be open to emails and phone calls from community members. I also plan to hold periodic Town Hall meetings in person as well as virtually so that I can keep abreast on issues of concerns from parents and staff.
WELLS: Two-way communication between the parents, taxpayers and the school district is my goal. As your trustee, I am always available by phone or email to answer any questions. My contact information is on the district’s website or I can be reached by calling the Superintendent’s Office. The school district also has a Facebook page where residents can submit questions and receive responses. Board workshops and meetings are open to the public. The dates, times and agendas are available on the Killeen ISD website. Meetings are televised live on Channel 17 or can be viewed afterwards on the district’s website.
Yes, I would, how do we help the students, if we don’t have a better relationship with the parents. Therefore, I would suggest that there should be more community forums that are well publicized in advance.
S. JONES: Board meetings and workshops are open to the public as well as televised. Workshops clarify much of the ensuing policy discussions. Agendas are posted on the KISD Website and the KDH. Also, the KISD Facebook page and web site provides valuable information. Call me: 254-290-0383. between 7 am and 9 pm, Mon – Sun. Leave a message or text me and I will call you back. Email me Susan.Jones@Killeenisd.org or Jones4KISD@gmail. I office at Extraco Banks in Harker Heights or set an appointment to meet after duty hours. I am always accessible to hear you.
GOLABOFF: I will always communicate with residents about what we are doing with their money. The best way to do it is through the use of technology. The technology exists to allow for dashboard display of all budgetary expenses and revenue for the district. Many of our State comparable districts are already using these dashboard displays to keep their residents informed on much larger budgets than ours. We should be able to do the same thing.
LAWLER: The District does a very good job of communicating with residents. Our board meetings are televised and recorded for play back on the District’s website. We use automated phone calling systems to keep parents alerted to happenings. Any questions that residents may have regarding financial issues for KISD can be accessed through the District’s website by selecting “KISD Financials”. The Board is always searching for better ways to communicate with students, parents, and residents.
PEOPLE: Absolutely. This is the meaning of “transparency.” I’m certain that residents are aware of many of these issues already, so keeping topics like these from them leaves the appearance of “something to hide.” I will suggest communicating as openly with the residents through the KISD website, but also allowing myself to be available at all times to answer any questions.
QUESTION 3: What would say about another taxpayer-funded bond for the school district in the next five years?
CARTER: I’m against having another bond within the next five years as I’m not sure KISD is being fiscally responsible with the funds. I would like to evaluate the budget and look into current cost cutting measures in place to see what’s working and what’s not working. Do we actually need to create new buildings or can we remodel older buildings? Are we using our finances wisely and ensuring that we are getting the best bang for our buck? Are we too top heavy with administrators? Are we investing in curriculum/resources that the staff doesn’t utilize? If so, why?
WELLS: As a KISD board member, I have always been fiscally conservative. There was a twelve-year period between the last bond issue in 2005 and this one. During that time, millions of dollars’ worth of construction and maintenance projects were funded without raising taxes because we strategically managed the school district’s assets. It was our policy to budget and spend tax dollars cautiously with an eye toward future growth and the sustainability of our district. I will continue to support saving now so we can fund future projects without further burdening our taxpayers.
D. JONES: I would say no, we are already taxing the public beyond what many of them are able to pay as it is, there must be another way.
S. JONES: If the Trustees continue to exercise the past budgeting habits and surplus funding is transferred to the strategic facility funds, we may be able to build elementary and middle schools, as needed. We must continue to allocate funds for maintenance, especially as our square footage increases. With the new High School, increasing capacity at KHS, and the increased enrollment in the ECHS, it is my hope that we will not be having this
discussion in 5 years. With that being said, this is all dependent on how fast our population grows and how much funding we receive for Impact Aid. Keep in mind, that Impact Aid funding is not guaranteed.
GOLABOFF: I am against another bond in the next five years. Unfortunately because this Board prioritized wants over needs and is spending more money than the bond authorized, I fear a second bond is inevitable. As one of the fast growing districts in the State, KISD needs a long-term building plan. We have a classroom shortage. That is a need. The longer we delay in adding classroom capacity, the more expensive it will be. Getting rid of portables was the main selling point of the bond, yet the majority of our bond money is not going towards that goal.
LAWLER: Without the benefit of a crystal ball, I believe there will not be a need for another bond election in the near future. The Bond Steering Committee did a very good job of planning for the needs of the District over the next few years. In my 53 years of association with the District, there have only been 3 or 4 bond elections - a tribute to the wise planning of community and school leaders of the past.
PEOPLE: I would like to be absolutely certain that this is necessary before moving forward, along with the potential amount of the bond, and the number of residents who would support what the bond would be used for.
QUESTION 4: Bond money allotted for certain projects is being used for others. What do you say about this and will you track these expenditures on behalf of the residents?
CARTER: I believe elected officials have an ethical responsibility to follow through on promises made to constituents. If we say we are going to use the money for x and y, then we need to do exactly what was agreed upon. I understand that circumstances change, but these are issues that should have been considered before pushing the bond election last May. More thought, communication, and transparency should have occurred and should occur. Yes, I would track the expenditures and post the changes to social media.
WELLS: The purpose of the bond was to fund safety and security upgrades, renovations and new construction. It must be spent for those purposes until all the projects are complete. Afterwards, any remaining money could be saved and used for future maintenance or construction. The bond projects can be tracked on the Killeen ISD website: Killeenisd.org which outlines: 1) timelines and budgets for each project 2) tracks each project’s progress and expenditures and 3) has schematic designs and floorplans of each project There is also a section on frequently asked questions and a place to submit your questions.
D. JONES: a. Bond money has a specific purpose, if it is not being used for that purpose then there should be an investigation. b. There should be a tracking system in place to show accountability.
S. JONES: Anticipated savings on High School 6 (Prop A), cannot be redirected to Proposition B and change orders are inevitable. I will always look for the better solution and best value for the taxpayer’s Dollar … how it serves the student’s educational experience and the security of our schools. The safety of our students and the staff, as the remodeling projects are underway, must be at the forefront of all of our decisions. Gibson Consulting Grp is performing a Pre-emptive Audit and they report directly to the Committee, which I chair. Updates are posted at https://killeenisdbond.org/bondprogress.html
GOLABOFF: The voters approved $216M for new schools (adding capacity). Initial design cost for both schools came in a combined $29M lower than expected. In addition the Pershing Park project came in $9M cheaper. But instead taking that $38M and increasing classroom capacity by building elementary school #37, the Board has increased renovation cost for the East-West Ward project by $4M, Clifton Park project by $19M and KHS project by $24M for a total of $47M. This puts the bond $9M over what the voters approved. This is wrong and yes I will keep telling residents the truth about board spending.
LAWLER: The District is NOT spending bond monies on anything other than providing the best possible facilities that are in keeping with the intent of the voters when the bond was approved last May. In some cases, the Board has decided to use Strategic Facilities Funds to enhance a project over what was originally planned. In those cases, safety for kids, less disruption for teachers and kids, and new structures versus re-modelled were the driving considerations.
PEOPLE: This should not be taking place. I’m not certain as to what is being discussed in meetings prior to this for us to need to use bond money on projects other than what they were intended for. That’s like my wife and I spending an hour discussing what groceries to buy, only for me to return home with an XBox or PlayStation 4. Obviously the right conversations are not happening, or there is simply carelessness in those discussions. I absolutely will track expenditures so the residents can feel confident that their money is being spent wisely, and we are not just changing the script after the money is received.
QUESTION 5: Special ed parents have raised concerns about timely evaluations of their children to get them appropriate education, and have concerns about staffing for that education. How would you address these concerns?
CARTER: The first thing that I would do is take note of each concern and send the concerns to Dr. Craft. My expectation is that the Special Education Department will research the issues and have solutions in hand. I would also request the concerns be added to the School Board agenda so that everyone is aware of the issues that need to be addressed. Currently, it has been reported by parents that children who should be receiving speech services have not been receiving the services on a regular basis due to shortage of speech specialists. How long has this occurred?
WELLS: Our special education program has made strides toward improvement and is currently in compliance with TEA guidelines. Standardized procedures for referrals and placements have been developed and timelines are being met. Additional staff continues to be added including a coordinator at each school next year to facilitate ARDs. Staff training is ongoing. Services are being provided that our students need and deserve. Is KISD perfect? No, but Dr. Craft is constantly assessing practices and evaluating how our district can improve.
D. JONES: a. All special Ed students deserve the right to an education. The system needs to be improved. b. I would see that Special Ed teachers receive the training needed to educate the special Ed students.
S. JONES: The District implemented changes from the 2016 Audit and progress was validated in a follow-up audit in the 17/18 school year. There are still efficiencies that we must work toward and recently approved the allocation for 44 Facilitators. I also endorse a follow up audit in 2020. Approximately 13% of our 45,000 students are part of our Special Education Program and the Board has nearly doubled funding since 2015. With that being said, we must do our best to deliver a free and appropriate education to all.
GOLABOFF: I would address their concerns just like I would for any other parent. I will meet with them to listen to their concerns. I will bring the staff and the parents together to facilitate a dialogue. Special Ed parents are unhappy. They are our customer. We must hear their concerns and help them understand what we can and are doing to alleviate those concerns. If more staff is needed, then we should add more staff. Meeting a child’s needs is paramount and the #1 job of KISD.
LAWLER: The State of Texas monitors and reports any problems of these matters when and where they occur. If and/or when they are reported, those problems are addressed immediately. Throughout the last few years, the Board and the Superintendent have added staff and processes to address the concerns of parents. We are committed to serve the needs of all students by providing the necessary staff and resources to guarantee every student develops his maximum potential.
PEOPLE: We need to spend the money necessary to get the staffing so that special education students are not forgotten about or placed aside. There should be nothing else more important than doing what we need to do to take care of ALL our students. The staffing for special education students needs to be near the TOP of the agenda, not near the bottom. This needs to be a priority and right now, it is clear that it is not. I would support finding out how we can improve the staffing for the special education students so that timely evaluations can happen.