Killeen school Superintendent John Craft has said many times over the past four months, “It is critically important to the quality of education in Killeen ISD that we build a new high school.”
The Killeen Independent School District superintendent has pushed that project, and others, through bond steering committee meetings in November and subsequent KISD Board of Trustees meetings, saying the need is urgent, due to yearly increases in the student population.
Some of Craft’s recommended projects fell by the wayside when the bond steering committee voted Nov. 30 to recommend a $426 million bond issue to the KISD board.
That recommendation, made by bond steering committee members at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting, seemed fairly cut-and-dry.
Since then, concerns raised by the public to board members have caused changes to be made in how the bond issue might be approached.
The board conducted the discussion about the bond late Tuesday night during a board workshop which wasn’t broadcast on the public airwaves. Regular board meetings are broadcast.
The prospect of splitting the bond into two separate propositions — one for $235 million and another for $191 million — came up during that discussion.
The $235 million proposal would allow voters to approve funds for three projects on the bond issue:
• Renovations to bring existing campuses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and address security/safety issues.
• A new high school to open for the 2022-2023 school year.
• A new elementary school to open for the 2022-2023 school year.
A $191 million proposal would separate consolidation of existing schools into newly built campuses, and renovate other schools over 50 years old:
• Consolidation of East Ward and West Ward elementary schools with construction of a new East Ward school.
• Consolidation of Pershing Park and Sugar Loaf elementary schools, with partial rezoning of Bellaire Elementary School, and construction of a new Pershing Park school.
• Renovation and expansion of Clifton Park Elementary School, with partial rezoning of Bellaire Elementary School.
• Renovations to Killeen High School.
On Tuesday evening, the bond issue update was listed as item eight of 14 on the agenda’s priorities.
In an almost empty board room at the KISD administration building, Adam Rich, KISD executive director of facilities services, and Megan Bradley, KISD chief financial officer, took their seats at a table facing Craft and the six board members present at approximately 8 p.m., two hours into the workshop.
As Rich presented a detailed overview of every project to be funded by the bond issue, the hours ticked past.
The workshop didn’t adjourn until after 10:30 p.m.
A late night press release, emailed to the media by Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer, declared the $426 million bond issue might be split into two propositions for voters to consider May 5.
Abbott, however, had previously emailed another press release, prior to the board workshop. That release focused on KISD approaching a student enrollment of 45,000 for the 2018-2019 school year, despite the bond being top priority.
When asked by the Herald on Tuesday afternoon, before the board workshop, whether the bond issue might be broken into two items on the May ballot, Abbott responded, “This groups the work into essentially enrollment needs and older building needs. We won’t know what final version the bond package will take for sure until Feb. 13 but I think there will be a discussion tonight of what the ballot could look like.”
Abbott did not confirm Craft would propose breaking the financing measure into two parts.
The idea of breaking the bond issue into multiple voting options wasn’t new, and wasn’t originally Craft’s.
At the Dec. 12 board meeting, KISD board member JoAnn Purser suggested that be done.
“Each project needs to be voted on separately,” Purser said Wednesday. “If we explain the facts to everyone, they will all be seen as viable, worthy propositions for the voters to support.”
Purser is grateful Craft chose to consider her idea, which is not detailed in the minutes of the Dec. 12 board meeting.
“To be forced to support all or none puts a bad taste in the voters’ mouths.”
If Purser’s idea had been considered earlier, the district would not need to have its contract law firm rewrite the draft bond election language, which was presented to the board at their Jan. 9 meeting. If the bond issue is split into two propositions, that language will need to be rewritten, with associated costs being paid to the law firm for their services.
The other lingering question: where is Huckabee, Inc. in this bond issue process?
KISD signed a contract with Huckabee, Inc. — the firm that has designed most of the newer schools in the district — on Oct. 25. The agreement runs through May 5, the proposed bond issue election date.
Huckabee is being paid between $45,000 and $49,000 for “Bond Planning & Community Engagement” services, an amount just below the threshold which would require the board to vote its approval or request competitive bids.
In December, the Herald sent repeated questions to KISD, seeking clarification about what this contract with Huckabee entailed. After an exchange of emails, Craft later included Huckabee in his answer to questions about how the bond would be marketed to the community.
Representatives of Huckabee, Inc. were present at Tuesday’s KISD board workshop. They spoke about the design of the new elementary school, which will be funded from existing KISD funds and not the bond issue.
The Huckabee representatives did not speak during the bond issue discussion, according to Board Member Susan Jones.
As for the possibility of splitting the bond issue into two propositions, “I am still thinking about the option of two proposals and evaluating the pros and cons of such positioning,” Jones said.
Purser remains optimistic about the upcoming vote at the Feb. 13 board meeting to call for a bond election, that vote could also happen during a special meeting scheduled for Feb. 15, which would meet the deadline of Feb. 16 to call for the bond election on the May 5 ballot.