A little-known business group donated $12,500 to promote the Killeen Independent School District bond but has declined to discuss it.
The Killeen Business League describes itself as a pro-development group, but does not have a membership list, and most officers declined to discuss the league.
The donation went to a political action committee in support of KISD’s $426 million bond propositions, which had filed registration documents April 4 with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Vote Yes for KISD Kids, a coalition of six community members, has $13,750 collected from contributions for the campaign, according to the documents. The political-action group has spent more than $6,000 installing large signs around the area that encourage voters to cast ballots in favor of the two proposed bond measures. They also spend money on video testimonials and yard signs.
Proposition A is for $235 million and would fund a new high school and elementary school, as well as upgrades to existing facilities. Upgrades could include intercoms, controlled access devices, perimeter fencing and shade structures for outdoor play at elementary schools.
Proposition B is for $191 million. The bond on the ballot says the money will be spent on “the construction, acquisition and equipment of school buildings in the District, including the rehabilitation, renovation, expansion, improvement and consolidation of District facilities, and levying of the tax in payment thereof.” It doesn’t specify how it would be spent.
Superintendent John Craft has said KISD would spend it on consolidation of schools and a complete revamp of Killeen High School. Early voting for the bond starts Monday, with election day on May 5.
The Killeen Business League has provided the vast majority of the PAC’s documented money.
There’s no clear answer as to why this group chose to support a pro-bond campaign. Most who identified as league members refused to comment beyond their involvement. There’s no statement announcing the hope of league members that a check for $12,500 given to Vote Yes for KISD Kids turns into a $426 million district makeover.
The latest public information report for the league obtained from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, filed in 2016, includes some registered members. In various capacities, they include Pat Kaufman, president of First Texas Bank; Bobby Hoxworth, president of First National Bank Texas; Scott Cosper, Texas House District 54 incumbent; and Kathy Gilmore, former KISD spokeswoman.
Carlyle Walton, current KISD board trustee for Place 5, is also listed on the report.
Walton has not returned multiple calls seeking comment on the Killeen Business League.
Hoxworth attributed the following statement only to him personally, and not as a representative of his bank or the Killeen Business League:
“As a KISD graduate, I know that the quality education I received was an important component in preparing me for my future. I hope that we as a community will continue to invest in our future generations by providing every student the quality facilities and instruction that are essential to their future success,” he said.
Kaufman, who identified as a member and not a leader of the league, refused to comment on the donation to Vote Yes for KISD Kids, fellow members of the league or any questions regarding the league.
He directed all league questions to Randy Sutton, president of First State Bank Central Texas in Harker Heights.
Sutton was reached a day after the Herald obtained documents revealing the league’s donation to Vote Yes for KISD Kids.
He paused for more than 10 seconds when asked why the league contributed $12,500 to Vote Yes for KISD Kids.
“I could tell you everything about it, but it seems like anytime we try to do positive for the community, you all turn around and make it sound like a negative,” Sutton said, denying comment on the donation.
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra received an invitation to join the business league when it was founded “about three or four years ago.”
Segarra said he served as vice president of the group under Kaufman.
“It’s a good group,” said Segarra, adding he hasn’t been a member of the group for several months. “It brings businesses and people from all different backgrounds and community leaders to bring more economic development. That’s one thing that attracted me — more economic development.”
The Killeen Business League was inspired by the Temple Business League, which played “a significant role” in reeling in the city’s Buc-ee’s off Interstate 35, Segarra said.
Organizers of Vote Yes for KISD Kids say they don’t know why the league gave $12,500 to the campaign. Members include Cullen Mills, Bill Kliewer, Brenda Coley, Michael Linnemann, Kay Carey and Jessica Diem.
Mills, the campaign treasurer, said he received the check in the mail with no explanation.
Linnemann, who owns Linnemann Realty, where bond supporters can pick up their own yard signs, also provided no insight to the motivation behind the check, nor was he too familiar with the Killeen Business League, he said.
“I couldn’t tell you what their motivation was behind it,” Linnemann said. “I can only imagine the motivation is improvement to infrastructure (and) is critical for any business.”
Mills, Kliewer and Coley were part of a bond steering committee appointed by Craft. Craft and the district selected potential committee members and sent more than 100 invitations out to people for the committee, which met four times in November at various KISD schools to help prioritize what the district would propose on the May 5 ballot.
Mills said conversation of creating Vote Yes for KISD Kids originated during bond steering committee meetings.
Craft charged committee members to be part of the “education” process in the months before the May 5 election. As part of this education process, the superintendent and fellow district officials have presented information about the bond at about 57 total meetings.
Out of the presentations, 45 have been given to school staff. The total number of town halls on the schedule is 12.
In determining what would be proposed for the May 5 ballot and presented to the public, the district identified a universe of needs before the bond steering committee, according to Hal Schiffman, who was on the bond steering committee.
The committee prioritized the items the district presented to it. In turn, the district accepted the prioritization of the committee.
“Speaking for myself only, I did not feel obligated to, or responsible for, promoting the bond beyond the substantial justification for the bond I extracted from the information revealed to the committee and the community,” he said.
As a whole, Schiffman said his interpretation from the committee meetings was that the committee acknowledged the necessity for the various proposed initiatives in the bond.
“We had spent weeks analyzing, discussing and debating,” Schiffman said. “The priorities were agreed upon.”