After months of buildup, Killeen Independent School District voters will decide whether to pay an unprecedented amount of money to the district: $426 million in two bond issues on the May 5 ballot.
In a unanimous vote, the board of trustees elected last week to place two bond issues on the ballot.
“We’re nervous,” said board trustee JoAnn Purser on asking KISD voters to increase the school tax rate for the first time since 2002.
The board hopes to educate voters to calm those nerves.
The board has a lot of information to convey on the two bond issues. Proposition A, worth $235 million, addresses safety, security and accessibility and would provide new schools. Proposition B, worth $191 million, addresses existing district facilities through renovations and new school replacements.
District officials plan to go beyond the boardroom to talk to voters in the 10 weeks leading up to early voting and Election Day.
“Unless you’re really versed in the day-to-day activity of the school district, it’s really hard to truly grasp what the district is wanting to do,” Purser said. “The superintendent obviously did a very good job explaining what we’re trying to accomplish, but there is so much more.”
Educators educate, and that is what the district intends to do next, said chief communication officer Terry Abbott.
A school district advertising or campaigning in support of its bond issues is against the law, according to Abbott. But the 101,902 registered voters in KISD have resources available to them as they mull over the propositions.
“Our responsibility now is to educate the voters about the ballot, what is in the proposed bond program, the details of what is proposed and about the school district,” Abbott said. “How the funds will be used (and) how the district operates.”
Beginning this week, KISD will conduct a series of public meetings to provide information to voters about the proposed school construction and renovations. District officials will discuss details of the bond program and how it works and is financed, along with other background information about district operations.
Beyond the meetings, trustee Carlyle Walton urges voters to take time to review Craft’s 42-slide presentation on the district’s website.
“I encourage all citizens to take the time to review it,” Walton said. “We made a recommendation as trustees to put this on the ballot. It’s up to the citizens to decide if this is the direction we’d like to go.”
In turn, as residents learn more about the two propositions to appear on the May 5 ballot, the board will strengthen its own understanding of what people believe KISD should be, according to trustees.
“I really need feedback from them,” Purser said. “Right now, they’re still stinging from the correction of the tax appraisal values. Once they understand what their budget is going to be. I really hope they go to the polls and vote with their heart and their pocketbook, because we need to know what they tolerate and what they will allow us to do with their money.”
Purser said the sting of recent tax appraisal evaluation, which hiked property values up by at least 30 percent to as high as 5,000 percent, is still fresh in the minds of several taxpayers.
She said the board understands the hesitation several residents have in being asked to pay even more money.
Marvin Hahn. Bell County chief appraiser, had overseen an across-the-board increase of 2017 commercial appraisals that has raised some landowners’ bills by thousands of dollars a year. Hahn said the leap was due to previous chronic undervaluation of the land. Landowners who saw property valuations rise started making payments in January.
During the latest board meeting, trustee Susan Jones questioned the nonspecific language of Proposition B, citing the lack of detail for which projects would be undertaken. The $191 million Proposition B would cover consolidation of existing schools into newly built campuses, and renovation of schools older than 50 years. Killeen High School alone would see $75 million in renovations.
Craft said the board will maintain transparency if the district is granted those bond funds.
“The projects will still go through steps of approval by the board,” Craft said. “This is not a blank check. The board will take action through a series of steps.”
The district’s legal advisers said at last week’s board meeting it isn’t necessary to be explicit in what exactly will be included in the $191 million of renovations, citing the fact that the intentions are outlined on record in Craft’s presentation and online resources.
Jones said her hesitation stems from the possibility of personnel changes. As the school board evolves, will the goals follow suit?
Purser hopes potential new faces to the board follow the same vision as the current board.
“If there is a change of staff or board, will they see the same vision that by law we voted on?” Purser said.
Looking beyond whether the bond passes or fails, one strength of the bond lies in its inherent ability to allow voters to at least consider current facility conditions, Purser said.
“Overall, one strength of the bond and the reason people consider it would be looking at overall capacity and overall inequities in the district.”
She sees one weakness of the bond stems from the construction itself and the tearing down of buildings.
And while many KISD schools will be updated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, their increasing age raises concern since entirely new buildings aren’t replacing them.
The use of more portable buildings during construction contributes to this friction, but the trustees believe the end result will be worth it.
“The weakness in the bond would be the possible teardown of buildings. People have to come to terms with that’s what we’re going to be doing,” Purser said.
Board president Corbett Lawler said the $426 million in total bonds to appear on the May 5 ballot outweighs investing in short-term, portable buildings to supplement swelling enrollment.
The district currently has 232 portable buildings for a total of 290 portable classrooms. The district said it wouldn’t have to use as many portable buildings if the bond issues are passed.
Killeen residents can go to www.votetexas.gov and click on the “Am I Registered?” tab to check whether they are registered to vote.
Residents can also call the Bell County elections office at 254-933-5774. The deadline for registering to vote is April 5.
Early voting for the May 5 election begins April 23 and ends May 1.
The last day to apply for a ballot by mail is April 24. Ballot-by-mail applications must be received by that day.