Candidates for four Killeen City Council district seats and two Killeen Independent School District board of trustees seats took part in a May 6 election forum at the Killeen Community Center.
About 50 residents showed up to submit questions to the candidates regarding KISD and city issues at the forum hosted by the League of United Latin American Citizens Herencia Council No. 4297 and the Stars and Stripes Exchange Club.
Some of the current issues addressed by KISD candidates included district transparency, the salary of KISD Superintendent John Craft, low teacher salaries, high student-to-teacher ratios, student safety and special education concerns.
City Council candidates talked briefly about their top issues and addressed resident mistrust in the council’s deliberations.
All seven KISD candidates were present for the forum and offered a spectrum of views on school district concerns.
Robert Synder said he believes Craft has earned his salary fairly.
“I believe he (Craft) deserves every dollar he makes and believe he’s doing a very good job. We need to make sure our teacher salaries are competitive, to be able to retain our teachers,” Snyder said.
Incumbent Marvin Rainwater and candidates Gerald Dreher and Lan Carter agreed teacher salaries need to be increased.
“Every weekend at any campus in KISD you will see cars in the parking lots, because teachers are preparing lesson plans. For all the work teachers do, I believe we are underpaid,” Carter said.
Candidates also voiced their opinions saying current teacher-to-student ratios are still too high, and a lower ratio would help students learn more effectively in the classroom.
“We currently have behavioral issues with students because they don’t see the one-on-one time they need from a teacher to learn,” Stephania Williams said.
“We need more schools, and we need smaller classrooms,” Lonnie Farrow said.
While many parents have expressed frustration with KISD’s use of alternative school for some students, Dreher said, campuses should find better ways to reprimand students without stopping their learning experience.
“There should be more on campus discipline as opposed to alternative school downtown. It becomes more difficult for a student to learn effectively in that setting” Dreher said.
Carter addressed school counselors not being able to fully do their jobs because they are required to fill out mass amounts of paperwork, highlighting the need for student evaluation training so teachers can accurately notice student bullying.
“The key to bullying is to educate the staff about how to recognize bullying, and how to handle it, let the counselors do their job and counsel,” Carter said.
Carlyle Walton voiced his hope for all involved to limit their expectations to what can be afforded fiscally.
Ten of 13 City Council candidates were given questions short on specifics for tackling the city’s financial and crime issues, but took the opportunity to discuss their qualifications and ethics.
Candidates Hal Butchart, running for District 3; Ralph Cossey Jr., running for District 4; and Stanley Abrahams, running for District 4, were not in attendance.
The candidates largely focused on tackling violent crime, balancing the budget and bringing high-paying jobs to Killeen.
The audience question that seemed to split the panel concerned a perceived “good ol’ boy” culture of the council, or the lingering belief real estate developers influence City Council votes.
More than half the panel — comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore, District 3 Councilman Jim Kilpatrick, District 2 candidate Debbie Nash-King and District 1 candidate Kenny Wells — said there was no “shadow government” influencing council votes, only community leaders pushing the city forward.
“I have never been approached by anybody to sway my vote,” Moore said. “You have to work with business to make this community move.”
District 2 candidate Larry Smith said the network of influence in council elections was apparent in how the council votes to award contracts.
“If you want to see the ‘good ol’ boy’ network, look at who gets the contracts to expand this city,” Smith said.