Recent years have brought some big changes in the Killeen Independent School District.
In May, the district held its first bond election in over a decade, and voters approved a $426 million bond. The district went right to work on several major construction projects, including renovating older campuses and building brand new schools.
The district’s choices for spending that money and changes made in the original spending plan are being debated in the campaign for the May 5 election for four board seats.
On Feb. 12, the board approved a $310,000 salary for Superintendent John Craft. This represents a yearly raise of over $40,000, which has also sparked mixed reactions among the public, as well as among candidates for the May election.
The Herald, as part of its ongoing election coverage, asked the eight school board candidates for their opinions in three questions emailed to them a week ago.
The candidates are: Place 1, Lan Carter and Shelley Wells, incumbent; Place 2, David Jones and Susan Jones, incumbent; Place 3, Stanley Golaboff, Corbett Lawler, incumbent, and Robert People; Place 5, Brett Williams, incumbent.
All candidates answered the Herald’s questions expect for Carter. She acknowledged getting the questions, but had not answered them as of 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
What are your thoughts on how the district has spent the bond money thus far, and why? What, if anything, would you do differently if you were on the board? How would you ensure the money is spent wisely?
Shelley Wells: The school district has already begun the planning process for all the projects that will be funded by the bond election. Schematic designs for the elementary school consolidation projects have already been approved. Two of these new facilities will employ a prototype floor plan that the district has used for the last nine elementary schools. Doing so results in considerable savings for our taxpayers. Preliminary estimates for the new high school are substantially less than originally anticipated. Killeen High School renovation plans are not complete but should not exceed the funds allotted in the bond election. Savings can and have been achieved by accelerating the construction schedules for these schools and trying to stay ahead of the rapidly escalating costs of materials and manpower. My goal for our district is always to have adequate not elaborate schools that are efficient, safe, welcoming places for students to learn and grow.
David Jones: As a newcomer, I am trying to understand this system. The budget is very large and takes some digesting. It would take me being an accountant to figure it out. With some training I’m sure I’ll get a better understanding. Without understanding the district mission I’m not sure what I would do differently if anything, but I would ensure money is spent wisely by learning and understanding the budget.
Susan Jones: Not a lot of bond money has been spent yet as we are still in the process of selecting designs and placement. I will continue to advocate for larger schools to eliminate the need for portables and to increase efficiencies ….ie, 1050+ vs 750 for elementary schools. I will continue to advocate for more streamlined buildings to minimize cost of construction, ease of maintenance and increased security. I will continue to serve on the Audit committee and monitor the progress through the Pre-Emptive Construction Audit that is in progress and will continue throughout the construction phase. The general public can also monitor the progress on the KISD Website.
Stanley Golaboff: I think the district has done a horrible job of spending the bond money so far. Aside from a couple hundred thousand in security upgrades consisting of buzzers and locks for doors, the district has been fiscally irresponsible in putting the $426M to good use to relieve overcrowding or for that matter using the money as they said they would. Dr. Craft and the Corbett Lawler-led School Board sold this bond as a building project to reduce overcrowding and portable building numbers. Yet $210M of the bond to include the entire proposition B package fails to address overcrowding. The six elementary schools (East Ward, West Ward, Clifton Park, Pershing Park, Bellaire and Sugar Loaf) targeted in Proposition B accounted for just 27 of 126 portables at the elementary level in KISD. One of the six targeted schools had and still has zero portables (West Ward). Worse, the three new schools replacing these six schools reduce student throughout by 356 spots. This will create the need for approximately 16 more portables to offset the loss. The initial cost of the three projects affecting these six schools was $116M. With changes to move the Clifton Park renovation to the old Nolan Middle School, the cost for all three has ballooned to $130M. That’s $130M to eliminate 27 portables. None of the six schools targeted were in the top 5 of portable use and the board actually voted against including two of the top 5 (Peebles and Harker Heights) in the bond election. Spending $130M to address overcrowding and then completely ignoring the 5 most overcrowded elementary schools is very fiscally irresponsible. The $426M bond pushed by Dr. Craft and the Lawler-led Board is not a building bond, it’s a modernization bond. For $426M the voters of KISD should be getting greater increase in student enrollment capacity than the paltry 600 elementary student gain for the four elementary schools in the two packages.
Corbett Lawler: The board and the administrative staff have been very judicious in following the guidelines set in the language of the bond election approved overwhelmingly by the voters last May. The board and Dr. Craft have been able to stay well within the dollar estimates that were provided in the bond election process. We will continue to follow the letter and intent of the bond parameters to provide the best educational settings for our students.
Robert People: My biggest concern is that whenever there are changes to budget plans, whether additional funds are needed, or if there are more savings than anticipated, that we are as upfront as possible with the public in what will be taking place. I can understand and accept a little room for change, but we also have to be certain that we are working to remain as close as possible with initial plans. There is $8 million overall additional cost, and while renovations are important (especially to Killeen High School as being the oldest school in the district), some of the amounts are way above the initial budget plans (Killeen High School’s is by $23 million), I would do my best to see where adequate renovations could still happen, while reducing the cost.
Brett Williams: To date I feel as though the district has been very open with information pertaining to the bond package. I think it is imperative that the community remain engaged with the process and articulate any concerns to district staff and elected officials. As the various design plans continue to materialize, the community needs to be active in expressing not only their concerns, but their support.
What are your thoughts on the district’s annual budget and spending, as well as how decisions on spending are made? How would you like to see it changed if you were elected?
Shelley Wells: The majority of the district’s budget is spent on instruction with over 80% spent on personnel. It is a conservative, balanced budget that is audited annually. At the end of the year, any unexpended funds are transferred to our strategic facilities plan. These funds are used for maintenance, repairs, renovations and new school buildings. In the twelve years prior to the recent bond election, all of our facilities were paid for with these savings.
David Jones: Simply put, it is very large and would take several weeks to digest. In reviewing the 2018 budget to a layman it looks extremely large yet at this time, I don’t think that I can make a fair assessment.
Susan Jones: The KISD budget is an ongoing process and amendments occur throughout the year. The General Fund is $387.3M and 85% of that covers the cost of personnel. It has been our practice to exceed TEA’s requirement for 2 months of reserve operating capital by one additional month and I would continue to support this process. I will continue to advocate for the Impact Aid funds and the conservative budget process in anticipation of receipt of such funds. (FY 2017/2018 budgeted for $46.6M and received $53.9M) I am excited to soon be using a Budget Dashboard that I passionately advocated for. This will allow the Board Members the opportunity to analysis expenditures in a more detailed manner and assist in the decision process.
Stanley Golaboff: I don’t agree with the current budgeting process. Whether it’s spending $1M to replace a scoreboard that wasn’t broken, or denying employees a 3% raise because of concerns about a self-imposed funding level for the strategic facility fund, this Lawler-led Board has continued to show poor fiscal judgement. Now they are discussing eliminating the only education program that allows a high school student to earn an associate’s degree and still participate in UIL activities. Eliminating the IB program at Killeen High just because of cost would be fiscally irresponsible. Especially in light of the fact that enrollment is down due to the direct efforts of the districts to funnel all students interested in getting an associate’s degree into the Early College High School. This highly publicized campaign to drive up early College High School numbers has had a direct impact on IB enrollment. The rumored pending demise of the IB program also has not helped enrollment figures for the IB program. If the IB program is eliminated it should be eliminated because it no longer meets the needs of our students, not because it cost 900K, which again is less than what we spent to replace a scoreboard that wasn’t broken for Friday night football games.
Corbett Lawler: The district’s annual budget and spending are perfect examples of how well the board and the superintendent (historically speaking) have handled financial matters. We have one of the lowest tax rates in the State for building new schools even with the passing of the recent bond. In the last 16 years we have spent over $250 million on new construction with monies we have saved from the wise planning and execution of our annual budget. We continue to experience student growth and will have to manage our budget in ways that will allow us to stay abreast of the changing nature of this community.
Robert People: I believe that the addition of schools, along with the renovation of existing schools, again, is a great idea. Changes I would recommend would be how costs could be cut WITHOUT cutting quality to renovations. It appears that the renovations go over budget, but the creations of new schools are under. I would find a way to balance that a little more.
Brett Williams: The key to any budget process is citizen engagement. I will engage citizens to see what issues are important to them. I will then work with Dr. Craft to identify how we can address the concerns and then quantify them in the budget in a manner that is obvious to the citizens. I think the current process functions properly. However, we should always be open with the public about expenditures and understand we are spending the citizens’ funds.
What are your thoughts on the $310,000 annual salary the school board approved for Superintendent John Craft?
Shelley Wells: As our superintendent, Dr Craft is responsible for nearly 45,000 students and 7,000 employees daily. He leads one of the largest, fast growing school districts in Texas. His salary is comparable to that of his colleagues in similar size districts throughout the state. In addition to his regular duties, Dr. Craft is currently overseeing 426 million dollars worth of safety and security upgrades and construction projects. John Craft is a dedicated, talented and visionary leader. Our school district and our students are fortunate to have a man of Dr. Craft’s caliber as its superintendent.
David Jones: $310,000 is a large amount of money that the school board agreed upon. I’m only one person and there is not enough information for a sound wise decision.
Susan Jones: I voted for the increase in salary on the basis that his salary was below the average for a Superintendent, within a comparative school size. In-addition to the added burden of managing a $426M bond issue which consist of multiple renovations during school operations. The TEA website at: https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/adhocrpt/adpea.html will allow you to see the value that Texas places on good Superintendents and what KISD has to compete with for the benefit of our students. Broken down by student, Killeen now pays it’s Superintendent $7 per student, per year, compared to TISD’s at $24.72, CCISD’s at $24.72 and BISD’s at $17.25.
Stanley Golaboff: I believe the annual salary amount and more specifically the $42,000 raise the school board approved for Dr. Craft is yet another example of the Lawler-led school board’s tone deafness on fiscal matters and a direct insult to all the employees of KISD. This school board led employees and citizens of KISD to believe that a 3% pay raise was not only doable but likely for employees in the months leading up to the May 2018 school bond vote. Only after the bond passed did the school board pull back from its initial rosy assessments and then begrudgingly agree to a 2% raise for district employees. The board approved 15% raise is five times the State average pay raise for a superintendent according to the same survey that shows his new salary is more in line with superintendents of same size districts. It’s also interesting to note that KISD has never used this standard when discussing employee salaries. Dr. Craft should have gotten the same raise percentage as the rest of the employees of KISD. This raise is a prime example of this board’s fiscal irresponsibility and the kind I will oppose when elected.
Corbett Lawler: Our district has always tried to keep the salaries and benefits afforded to all our employees well within the range of what other districts around us are paying. Using standards set by the Texas Association of School Boards, we are able to monitor prevailing wages for all of our employees; the goal is to set our salaries to be competitive with those areas that compete with us for staff. Dr. Craft’s recent salary increase brings him into the low range of the average salaries paid to superintendents in districts our size around the state.
Robert People: I understand that this raise was approved to be more in line with other districts of the same size, but I have a hard time agreeing with a pay raise that is nearly equal to the salaries of teachers, who are the ones who deal directly with the students. I understand the job that Superintendent Craft must do and respect that, but our teachers have directly expressed that they are struggling to make ends meet, let alone afford basic school supplies to teach our children and properly do their jobs. They scrape for a 2% pay raise after again, detailing their struggles, while Mr. Craft is approved for a more than $40,000 annual pay raise for little reason other than “to line up with other district school leaders.” Our teachers deserve a little better than that.
Brett Williams: I believe that Dr. Craft has performed to a level that merits him being compensated equal to his peers. His leadership on the passage of the bond package was impressive. However, the work has just begun. And it is my desire for Dr. Craft to lead this district on the journey of making the entire package become a reality.
Early voting for the May 4 election starts April 22. The Herald’s KISD candidate forum is March 18, at 6:30 p.m., at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, 3601 S. W.S. Young Drive.