After weeks of work, the bond steering committee has presented its recommendation for a $426 million bond issue to the Killeen Independent School District board of trustees, but the process of getting the bond issue on the May ballot is not finished.
A marketing strategy will be developed by KISD administrators during the coming week, with the help of architect Huckabee, Inc., according to the bond process calendar. Before the first committee meeting to discuss a bond, Huckabee entered into a contract with KISD that runs from Oct. 25, 2017, to May 5, 2018, to handle “bond planning and community engagement” with the cost from $45,000 to $49,000, below the $50,000 threshold at which bids are required. These fees will be paid from the Killeen ISD general fund, according to Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer. Taxpayers’ money makes up the general fund that will be used to promote the bond taxpayers would fund.
Huckabee’s fees were not acknowledged by KISD Superintendent John Craft in a recent question-and-answer with the Herald regarding marketing of the bond issue.
Abbott, in response to Herald questions said, “Huckabee has worked with many school districts throughout Central Texas in this way for many years.”
During the first week of January, financial and legal consultants will meet with KISD administrators to discuss details of the bond issue, which will be reviewed at the KISD board’s Jan. 9 meeting.
According to KISD’s bond process calendar, the board is not set to vote on whether to hold a bond election on the May 5 ballot until the Feb. 13 meeting — three days before the deadline to call that election.
Despite these progressive steps, Craft and KISD board members have mentioned some remaining concerns.
During a meeting with Killeen Daily Herald staff on Tuesday, Craft said if the city of Killeen does not find the money to provide infrastructure for new school construction, some projects that are part of the KISD bond steering committee’s recommendation could be put on hold.
Craft said the proposed new high school, with an estimated cost of $171 million, set to be built on a 67.5-acre lot on Chaparral Road south of the Killeen police station, would require the city, and possibly other governmental entities, to make improvements to the road.
Otherwise, access to the new school would be problematic, Craft said.
Craft has been discussing matters with Killeen City Manager Ron Olson, and officials from Harker Heights and Bell County for months, he said.
The need for wider roads was not mentioned to the bond steering committee during its meetings, and was not brought up to the KISD board until the Dec. 12 meeting.
At the Nov. 28 Killeen City Council meeting, council members discussed possibly calling for a city bond issue to cover these infrastructure costs.
At Tuesday evening’s KISD board meeting, Craft spoke more confidently about the potential KISD bond issue. The board received the bond steering committee’s recommendation from co-chairmen Bill Kliewer, Brenda Coley and Hal Schiffman. Craft added his thoughts on the process during the presentation.
“This is about how do we best educate all students while moving forward,” Craft said at the meeting.
To that end, the bond steering committee met four times during November to prioritize projects presented by KISD officials.
The bond steering committee’s recommendation includes these projects:
• Renovations to bring existing campuses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and address security/safety issues.
• New high school to open for the 2022-2023 school year.
• 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.
• New elementary school to open for the 2022-2023 school year.
• Renovate and expand Clifton Park Elementary School, with partial rezoning of Bellaire Elementary School.
• Renovations to Killeen High School.
“I think the community has the capacity to absorb a bond like this,” Kliewer said at the board meeting Tuesday.
Schiffman confirmed that sentiment. “The priorities were accepted by the group because they made sense.”
KISD board member Carlyle Walton viewed the recommendation as a potential economic plus. “This is the community investing in itself” by bringing a large number of jobs to the district.
Board member Marvin Rainwater voiced his thoughts about the impact on the district’s transportation system, which continues to be short-staffed on bus drivers, currently having 40 bus driver vacancies, according to Abbott.
Craft was unable to answer Rainwater’s question about whether the current KISD transportation department could handle the growth. “We haven’t run the analysis yet,” Craft said.
Another question raised at Tuesday’s meeting came from Board Member JoAnn Purser. She suggested the bond issue might be split into pieces, so voters could choose their preferred projects, rather than an all-or-nothing proposal.
Bond steering committee co-chair Brenda Coley responded that the committee had discussed that option, and decided against it.
The board could, in the weeks to come, make changes to the bond steering committee’s recommendations, including splitting up the proposal, adding or eliminating projects.
Craft, when asked how the bond issue will be presented to the public, said information will be provided to civic organizations in the district, on the school campuses, and via town hall meetings. He did not specifically address the types of materials to be used, or the cost.
As for the essential cooperation with the city of Killeen on infrastructure, Craft said, “I don’t build the roads.”
Information on the potential bond issue is available on the KISD bond steering committee website: www.killeenisdbsc.org.