The Killeen Independent School District school board election has two seats up for grabs.
Of the seven Killeen school board candidates, five of them will be vying for the Place 5 seat, currently held by school board President Terry Delano.
Earlier this year, Delano said he would not be running for re-election. The five newcomers who are trying to get voted into that seat are: Lan Carter, Gerald Dreher, Lonnie Farrow, Bob Snyder and Carlyle Walton.
Incumbent board member Marvin Rainwater and challenger Stephania Williams are running for the Place 4 seat.
Candidates have had a chance over the past few months to voice their opinion on some of the issues they will face if elected.
In the coming months, the two elected candidates will need to address a number of issues existing in Killeen ISD including overcrowding and growth throughout the district, open campus lunch policies, a possible fifth high school, the special education department improvement plan, improving A-F state ratings for KISD, financial and other issues.
KISD CANDIDATE RESPONSES
1. KISD was previously under investigation for delays in providing appropriate education to special education students. Parents have complained about these and other issues related to their special needs children in KISD. What changes should be made to the special education department in KISD?
Lan Carter: Of vital importance is the hiring of qualified and experienced staff in Special Education. The head of the Special Education should be someone with vast amounts of classroom experience dealing with Special Education students. I am a huge proponent of education, however, education alone doesn’t make someone a subject matter expert. Unfortunately, the district failed to do that when they hired the present Special Education Director. A doctorate degree and a Principal’s certification doesn’t qualify someone as a specialist in Special Education. A subject matter expert as the lead would know how to better prepare general education teachers as well as special education teachers.
Gerald Dreher: We need to keep improving in this area. Simply because we have met State standards does not mean that we have the problem solved. As a board member I will continue to closely observe, meet with parents, teachers, and administrators and community leaders to make sure that we continue to improve in this area. We need to hire people into our special education program that have a deep background and proven success in this area. This should be something that the superintendent is directly accountable for.
Lonnie Farrow: The lack of transparency in KISD is what allowed the delays in education to take place. Without transparency we are left with delayed accountability. Delayed accountability leads to delayed development. All of the children who were allowed to succumb to the educational deficiencies that were created by this opaque environment were done a disservice by not only the district that was trusted to develop the children but also by the community that did not hold the board accountable for policies that prohibit educational standards from being met. Change must begin by full transparency for all classrooms and educational processes.
Marvin Rainwater: KISD is currently in compliance with TEA guidelines. KISD had reorganized special education, changed leadership, developed an internal auditing system, changed the roles of campus special education staff and developed parent resources for KISD parents. The district has sought input from parents, teachers, administrators regarding special education performance. Special Education will remain a priority for KISD.
Bob Snyder: I think the district has worked extremely hard this past year in improving its special education programs. They hired a director, Dr. Jan Peronto, who is leading this endeavor; all staff are conducting evaluations in a timely manner and a parent information center was created in addition to liaisons to address parent concerns. As noted in the KDH article, the Special Education Department is now 100% in compliance with the requests from the Texas Education Agency. This is a step in the right direction. The district has also followed SB 507 and cameras have been put in self-contained classrooms which is a positive step in addressing parent concerns. I am aware that there are more concerns from parents but KISD is moving forward. To continue this improvement, I feel that staffing is a major concern.
Carlyle Walton: KISD has submitted an approved three-year plan to ensure appropriate education is provided for special education students. Implementation of this plan by KISD leadership, consistent public reporting with measurable outcomes to the Trustees of adherence to the plan and the initiatives implemented, must occur. Active participation by parents of special education children through the formation of a parental special education advisory committee, can be very instrumental in proactively addressing concerns, challenges and opportunities. Utilization of district provided resources available at the Parent Resource Room at the Jackson Professional Learning Center can also assist in enhancing special education services in our district.
Stephania Williams: Special Education across the state of Texas is a systemic problem. Killeen ISD Special Education Program had been weak for over 30 years with regression taking place each year. The current administration inherited those concerns and has been in reactive mode instead of proactive mold due to the years of regression.
A great start would be intense administrator, teacher, staff and parent training, knowledge and implementation of the laws that provide a free and appropriate education to those under Response to Intervention and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Spend less of the budget on attorneys fighting parents and more on student education and community training.
2. Three of KISD’s main high schools are over capacity. Officials projected a new high school could cost more than $100 million. Others have suggested turning the career center into another high school. How would you suggest KISD address the overcrowding issue?
Lan Carter: As a career and technology teacher, I can appreciate the Career Center. I have toured the Center and have been wowed by the students work as well as the technology housed on campus. However, the 160,000 square feet campus is not being fully utilized with an enrollment of 1640 students The Center is not open to every student and many students with disabilities are prevented from attending. Copperas Cove High School offers CTE classes to students in the same building as core classes. Copperas Cove High School also offers certifications for its students in technology, health care, marketing and more. I believe it’s fiscally more responsible to utilize the Career Center as a 5th high school before agreeing to spend $100 million dollars on a new building.
Gerald Dreher: This is a two part problem. We must address the problem for today’s students as well as future students. We need to look at things that are outside the way we have always done things, staggered school hours, moving students to ECHS and the career center, and other things to lighten the load. Simultaneously we need to plan ahead and start saving for a new school, built within ten years that will be large enough to meet our growth for the next twenty years. We cannot build new schools that have portable buildings set up the next year!
Lonnie Farrow: I suggest that we not only build a new high school, but that we leverage the facilities we currently have and convert the Career center into a technical high school. In its current capacity it is not being optimized to educate as many minds as it can in an efficient and effective manner. America ranks 14th in education amongst world powers, while countries such as Japan and S. Korea dominate the top 5. Tomorrow’s Education Now includes facilities that can physically and mentally accommodate our children today and tomorrow.
Marvin Rainwater: I have always favored the Career Center/Pathways campuses becoming the 5th high school. KISD is currently developing plans to add a cafeteria, agricultural barn classroom space to the Career Center.
This is really a difficult question, which is more about changes in KISD. Will KISD student population continue to grow? If so where? How do we manage closed schools? How will the likely change of KISD no longer being a highly impacted school district affect future funding? Texas Senate Bill 3 purposes changes in funding with vouchers, which could take $110 billion away from public schools to charter or private schools. These schools have no accountability. The question is how will we manage these changes?
Bob Snyder: Although a 5th high school is part of KISD Strategic Facilities plan for 2019, at this time building a new high school would not be favorable due to the cost. I believe that there are other viable options. Expansion of the Career Center is one option since land is available and the number of students attending is increasing due to the fact that more students are wanting to enter the job force with certifications earned from attending the Career Center. Early College High School expansion is the second alternative to a 5th high school. It is located at the former Smith Middle School where space is available for an increased number of students to attend. These are better options financially than building a 5th high school at this time.
Carlyle Walton: Based on the growth trajectory of our district, a fifth high school (or some may say sixth) seems inevitable. However, exploring opportunities such as expanding the Career Center and its class offerings, thereby making it available to a greater number of students, and continuing the growth of the Early College High School (our defacto fifth high school) and the great collaboration with Central Texas College that this offers, are initiatives that need to be vetted and pursued as appropriate, concurrent with the development of plans for a dedicated fifth school campus. Expanding the choices available to our students is a key response to our current growth.
Stephania Williams: Based on current data and student numbers if the budget allows for the building of a new high school the district should move forward with the project. The Career Center should continue to be utilized for vocational education. The district should seek ways to accommodate and modify the Career Center in order for all students to utilize the Center especially those disadvantaged or with disabilities who otherwise might not have the means to gain training to become productive and independent as an adult.
3. Currently KISD board members handle a nearly $400 million budget. What are your qualifications to manage this amount of taxpayers’ money?
Lan Carter: Simply put, the only budget that I have been responsible for handling is my household budget. However, I do believe fiscal responsibility is important. I understand the value of spending taxpayers money wisely and the benefits of prioritizing needs vs wants.
Gerald Dreher: Really this is a question of judgement. I have held managerial and command positions in the Army and in the civilian world for over 30 years and have managed substantial budgets during this time. As a physician, my patients trust me with their life and health. Similarly, as a board member I am asking taxpayers to trust me with their hard earned tax dollars and the education and well-being of their children. I can think of no more solemn responsibility and I assure you that I will treat it with the care that I have shown my Soldiers and patients.
Lonnie Farrow: I have a background in both accounting and managerial accounting. Budgeting for any district or organization is about effective project planning and resource management. Both of which are done via tried and tested methods. I also have a background in tax preparation which requires great attention to detail and the discipline to follow stringent rules. There are a litany of qualifications that I could list but none of that matters if an individual is unethical. I will bring transparency to all that I do.
Marvin Rainwater: If I understand the question you are asking if I have ever managed a 344 million dollar budget. I have not. I have served as a trustee for 3 years which has helped develop and has final approval for the district’s budget. I have experience managing a high school budget, a Career Center budget which included Carl Perkins federal spending, and a athletic department budget. I hope these experiences lead me to sound budget making decisions, with the help of my fellow trustees.
Bob Snyder: My greatest asset that I bring as a candidate for the KISD School Board is my financial background. I graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station in 1980 with a BBA in Business Management. This degree required many hours in accounting and finance. After graduation, I began my professional career here in Killeen in banking. The majority of my banking career was spent in commercial lending where I was required to determine the creditworthiness of individuals. This required understanding tax returns and other accounting statements. Later, an opportunity arose for me to start my own business as a financial advisor with a nationally recognized investment firm. I have spent the last twenty years running a successful and profitable business.
Carlyle Walton: Professionally, the over 30 years of being blessed to be a Certified Public Accountant that began with auditing organizations with multi-million dollar operations coupled with the past 28 years leading organizations with multi-million dollar operations has equipped me to understand and make difficult, principled decisions on utilizing available dollars to serve our community most effectively and efficiently. Personally, I view the dollars available to KISD as more than taxpayers’ money. This is God’s money, and He expects me to be the very best steward of His resources.
Stephania Williams: Working as a soldier and professional in the past and current workforce I have projected spending, developed budgets, managed and balanced budgets of enormous amounts with success. I current my run a nonprofit and have raised funding for camps, clothing, food, education and other essentials for our community.
4. Currently KISD Superintendent John Craft makes $254,918 per year. How would you rate his performance. Do you have suggested improvements for his performance?
Lan Carter: I believe Dr. Craft’s performance as an Administrator has benefited the district. In my opinion, he outperformed his predecessor as: he is active in the community and attends many of KISD’s events in the community, found him to be approachable, and willing to lend an ear. According to KISD’s website, it’s the 26th largest district in the state of Texas. Compare Austin which is the 5th largest school district and its Superintendent’s pay of $286K with a population of 83,648 to KISD’s population of 43,258. My humble opinion is that Dr. Craft salary is more than I am comfortable with, especially when you look at the payscale of paraprofessionals or skilled workers.
My recommendation would to be to ensure that Human Resources is hiring fully qualified staff.
Gerald Dreher: I believe that Dr. Craft’s salary is in line with other school superintendents responsible for managing similar districts. As a board I believe that we need to hold our superintendent accountable for the district’s performance. We need to see marked improvements in special education, a plan to handle emerging growth, and a plan to raise our grades on the state evaluation. I believe that his future employment needs to be tied to success in those and other metrics. I also believe that the superintendent should take a more prominent role in conveying the district’s message to the public.
Lonnie Farrow: It’s not my responsibility to rate Mr. Crafts performance. There are independent audits that have the established criteria that all districts under their jurisdiction. Other districts that have similar compensation guidelines scored more favorably then KISD did in key areas such as PostSecondary readiness. So they question I would ask Mr. Craft is does he feel that he is putting the children in KISD in the position to make 250K a year or does our current educational system teach the skills to be marginally above the federal poverty guidelines set by the US government.
Marvin Rainwater: This is really a “thumb in the eye question.” The superintendent’s salary is at the midpoint of superintendent’s for school districts our size according to a Texas Association School Board study.
Our trustees evaluate the superintendent each January. I am pleased with the superintendent’s performance. I have also made recommendations for areas I felt needed to be improved.
Bob Snyder: Dr. Craft has done an excellent job in leading the largest school district between Dallas and Austin. He oversees around 44,000 students, over 6,300 employees, and an operating expenditure budget of over $356,000,000. Since the inception of the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas, KISD has maintained the highest achievement rating possible. In 2015-16, all 49 campuses Met Standard, the highest rating given by the Texas Education Agency; all accomplishments under his leadership. A strength of Dr. Craft’s is his communication with staff members. He and his Deputy Superintendent and others visit the campuses each year and talk to administrators, teachers, and students. Dr. Craft even spent a full day teaching science to high school students to get the pulse of what teachers and students go through in a day.
Carlyle Walton: The 2016-17 Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) report indicates that of the 26 school districts statewide with enrollment between 25,000-49,999 students, Dr. Craft’s compensation is in the 25th percentile. I rate his performance as very good. Dr. Craft is a fellow Rotarian, personal friend, the husband of a KISD teacher, and the father of KISD students, with a heart that passionately pursues the best for children and KISD. He is tireless in his advocacy for public education and his annual ratings by the board have been very positive. One improvement opportunity I would offer is for him to encourage and promote greater parental involvement. We are blessed to have him leading our district.
Stephania Williams: Dr. John Craft, Superintendent of KISD has had to play catch up over the past few years as he’s navigated the education system currently in place. Based on the current A-F System. I would rate Dr. Craft an B for Effort; C for Non completion; and a D for not thinking outside the box and improving the education and services for All students in the district.
5. KISD recently fared poorly on the state’s A-F ratings. Although the rating system is being revised, core issues remain. How would you direct administrators to improve student performance?
Lan Carter: Administrators should promote less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on identifying at risk students to provide supportive intervention programs to strengthen their weaknesses. Provide more hands on and peer learning opportunities in learning.
I would recommend School Counselors being able to reach out to students more rather than be bogged down in paperwork. According to American School Counselor Association (ASCA) School Counselors are to promote student development: emotionally, academically, career readiness, and etc.
Gerald Dreher: I believe that it is irresponsible to dismiss the results simply because the reporting system is not perfect. I would recommend the creation of a team made up of teachers, parents, and administrators to analyze the results, make recommendations and report directly to the superintendent and school board. We need to look at creative solutions, public/private partnerships, and new ways of doing business in the district. We can complain about the scoring system, but the facts remains we will be judged by it; we need to get smart and figure out how to fix things.
Lonnie Farrow: The core issues that remain are what we need to focus on. When our children do not meet the standards on a state issued test we do not go back to the state and say that they should lower the standards of the test so we can pass. Instead we hold the teachers accountable for the metrics not being met. Likewise the district needs to be held accountable for the ratings received instead of passing the buck on to its employees and parents. Until we put our staff in a position to be effective via more manageable class sizes and larger facilities then we are always going to have a revolving door of issues.
Marvin Rainwater: The A-F rating system stinks! This system oversimplify student successes or shortfalls, increases pressure for student testing, which is out of control, ignores factors other than test scores. This system is also demoralizing to students, teachers and community leaders who support public education!
Bob Snyder: It is important to know that this new accountability rating is a preliminary measurement. Currently the House Public Education Chairman and the Senate Education Chairman have both proposed similar bills that would condense the number of categories that schools and district get A-F grades. HB 22 and SB 2051 would grade three categories: student achievement, school progress, and school climate. It is worth noting that all of the 49 KISD campuses Met Standard, the highest rating given by the Texas Education Agency last year. Also, the ones that were rated D or F schools had no control over these outcomes, for example, student attendance. To help improve ratings, the key is to let all campuses, parents, and community members know the criteria in advance for the rating.
Carlyle Walton: In all of the 200 performance indicators under the state’s current accountability system, KISD was deemed to meet or exceed the standards. Always seeking to exceed the standards needs to be the aspirational goal of our district and the areas where the standard is just being met need to be addressed for improvement. Until the A-F rating system is improved and deemed by TEA to be reflective of district performance and not just done to meet a legislative mandate, opportunities for improvement based on the current performance indicators and needs of our district must be our focus.
Stephania Williams: Administrators, Teachers, Parents and the community as a whole need to demand better legislation and education for children at the state level. KISD could start by listening to the community; provided training and education; lower the student to teacher ratio; provide the resources, services and supports not only to teachers but students; increase the pay of teachers and staff that educate our greatest resource, STUDENTS.