Millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake as the Killeen Independent School District moves toward a $426 million bond election May 5. Decisions related to that, which will impact students in the district for many years to come, are being made at Board of Trustees meetings, some of which are not televised.
KISD BOARD WORKSHOPS
Discussions about the current bond issue have continued since October.
The workshops are not televised, as are the regular board meetings, yet much of the discussion and background on issues takes place at workshops.
While KISD holds public Board of Trustees meetings and workshops every month, only the meetings are broadcast over KISD-TV. The workshops are not.
Board workshops are not broadcast “because of the cost associated with the production and broadcast in terms of employee overtime hours,” said Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer. “State law allows local school districts to make such broadcast decisions.”
Another limitation for the public is in the advance notice.
When the board agendas are posted on the KISD website — usually at 5 p.m. on the Friday prior to a scheduled Tuesday meeting or workshop — “agenda packets” are included for board meetings, but not for board workshops.
Abbott said he agrees that including agenda packets online with the board workshop agenda “is something we can do to continue to improve upon our already aggressive and extensive communications outreach to the public and the news media regarding board meetings, and we will begin that practice for future meetings.”
Items discussed at board workshops are moved to the “consent agenda” of the next regular meeting, where as many of 15 items can be approved with one vote by the board members. Consent agenda items are not discussed individually, so those attending the board meeting are provided no details about what is being voted on, beyond the limited description in the agenda.
On Dec. 12, the approved consent agenda included, “Awarding of Bids and Proposals for Character Building, Hands-on Learning, Outreach Services & Instructional Materials; Environmental Remediation; Groundskeeping Equipment; Physical Education Supplies & Equipment.” On Nov. 14, the approved consent agenda had as one of 16 items: “Selection of Architect, Geotechnical Engineer, Materials Testing Engineer, and Delegation of Authority to the Superintendent for Elementary School #35.”
KISD BOARD MINUTES
The discussion that led to the spending approved at a regular meeting, had been done at a workshop that had no video. For board workshops, the public can access minutes via the KISD website after minutes have been approved by the board. Those minutes, however, lack detail and there are no videos or other recordings to fill in the gaps.
For the regular board meetings, videos help supplement the minutes and allow the public to hear everything said by Superintendent John Craft, board members, district administrators and those brought forward as consultants.
In October, for instance, Craft said the reason to accelerate the timing of the potential bond issue stemmed from board members’ comments at the Oct. 10 board meeting.
The minutes of that meeting say only, “Several Board members expressed interest in pursuing a May 2018 bond election.” No additional detail is available about an extensive discussion, but it can be viewed on video via the KISD-TV website.
No so with the Oct. 24 workshop, where meeting minutes were the sole record. The initiation of the potential bond issue process and creation of a bond steering committee were summarized in just over 250 words. The Herald submitted a public information request to KISD shortly after this workshop, seeking details on how the bond steering committee members were selected.
KISD did not provide that information in the 10 business days required by Texas law. It took six weeks, and repeated reminders, to acquire what information the district did provide, and it was incomplete, requiring additional requests.
The district did broadcast four bond steering committee meetings in November. Those videos were posted on a website set up specifically so the public could find materials related to the bond issue. District administrators and contracted KISD consultants presented PowerPoint presentations with preferred project recommendations and fielded questions from bond steering committee members.
Since that time, however, the flow of information has slowed.
On Dec. 12, board member JoAnn Purser suggested the bond issue be split into separate propositions for voters to consider. Here’s how that discussion was reported in the minutes:
“Board members made comments and asked questions of the committee co-chairs and the administration.”
In this case, video could supplement the cryptic reference in minutes because the meeting had been televised and posted on the KISD website.
During the televised Dec. 12 meeting, board president Corbett Lawler skipped other agenda items to discuss the bond steering recommendation immediately after the public forum.
The committee’s recommendation on the bond was presented so the discussion concluded at approximately 7:45 p.m.
On Jan. 23, when Purser’s idea to split the bond into separate propositions was raised again at a board workshop, the discussion was not clearly announced in advance, nor broadcast — as happens with regular board meetings — and the public has no way to revisit the discussion.
KISD PRESS RELEASES
Abbott said he sends periodic press releases to the media providing additional information about items on the KISD board meeting and workshop agendas.
Prior to the Jan. 23 board workshop, Abbott sent four press releases, none of which specifically mentioned the possibility of splitting the bond issue into two propositions.
When Abbott was asked whether the breakout of two bond amounts in press release sent hours before the Jan. 23 board workshop signaled the bond might be split into two propositions, he responded, “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.”
More than four hours later, the prospect of splitting the bond into two propositions — $235 million and $191 million — was announced by Abbott in a late press release.
KISD BOARD AGENDAS
The bond issue discussion at the Jan. 23 workshop was set as No. 8 on the agenda and not moved up, despite being touted by Abbott as “a major, important discussion.”
“The board agenda is generally grouped by subject area to assure a meeting agenda flow that makes the board’s consideration of agenda items efficient and effective,” Abbott said.
Each agenda notice includes the statement, “Items do not have to be taken in the order shown on this meeting notice.” At the Dec. 12 meeting, Lawler chose to skip other agenda items in favor of the bond issue, but did not do likewise at the Jan. 23 workshop.
The bond discussion began at approximately 8 p.m. Jan. 23 and could have been watched by the district’s parents and other taxpayers, if it had been broadcast.
Abbott disputed the concern about board meetings or workshops running late. “The minutes of the 23 regular and workshop meetings of the Killeen ISD school board in 2017 show that 17 of the 23 meetings ended before 9 p.m.”
Abbott’s “breaking news” press release on splitting the bond issue into two propositions was emailed to the media at 10:46 p.m. Jan. 23.
INFORMING THE TAXPAYING PUBLIC
KISD officials continue to assert the ongoing $426 million bond issue process meets the standards of transparency promised by superintendent John Craft at the Nov. 2 bond steering committee meeting.
In a letter to Herald editors on Jan. 30, Abbott disputed the Herald’s bond story published Jan. 27.
Abbott wrote, “The startling headline and sections of the story unfairly describe KISD’s sustained effort to communicate with the public, the newspaper and all the media about proposed school construction bond program before, during and after the school board workshop meeting.”
Board members stated at the Jan. 23 workshop they have been approached by people who have raised concerns about how bond issue funds could be misspent.
The concerns expressed by the taxpaying public stem partially from last year’s board decision to approve a $1 million scoreboard for Leo Buckley Stadium and early inclusion among potential bond projects of a $50 million athletic stadium.
The stadium vanished from the list of potential bond projects by the Nov. 9 bond steering committee meeting.