Two candidates are vying for Place 2 on the Killeen ISD Board of Trustees in the May 11 election.
John Gilmore and Susan M. Jones answered five questions from the Herald about why they're running for office and what their priorities would be if elected.
1. Why are you running for office, and what makes you qualified to serve?
GILMORE: I am running for Killeen ISD Trustee Place 2 because I believe that it is important for the children of this district to receive the best educational opportunities possible and I want to be a part of making that happen. I have a BBA in finance from the University of Texas at Austin and operate two businesses in the Killeen and Harker Heights area. I currently have two children in the district, which allows me to spend numerous hours on KISD campuses where I can see and feel what is going on at the ground level and bring that experience to the boardroom.
I feel that because of my business background as well as my passion for education and the opportunities that education brings to students, that I am well qualified to help lead this district into the future.
JONES: My family has lived by the moral imperative that you must give back to the community in which you live and earn your living. What better way to contribute than to help secure the educational excellence of our youth?
The past two years has allowed me to research and analyze every facet of the school district. I have gained a stronger understanding of the federal and state regulations affecting or influencing public education and the funding that is attached to such regulations.
Further, I have had the opportunity to study the financial statements, the budget and the strategic growth plan for the district in great detail. Coupling these past two years of experience with my financial and business experience, my formal education (MPA), and my life’s experiences both inside and outside of the military, allows me to serve more effectively alongside fellow board members and the administration.
2. What is the biggest challenge facing Killeen ISD, and how will you address it?
GILMORE: The biggest challenge facing KISD is the ongoing school finance debate and how schools, especially federally impacted schools, will be financed in the future. We must continue to work with our elected officials to detail our struggles with budgetary concerns and the impact that it has on students within the district.
Killeen ISD needs to be able to strategically plan future initiatives and provide a learning environment that all students will benefit from.
It can be very difficult to do this type of planning when funding can change so drastically from year to year.
When an opportunity comes along to change children’s lives through education, we need to be able to seize it and not have to wait for the budget cycle to come back around and hope that the funding will be there.
JONES: Ironically, the biggest challenge is the same this year as it was two years ago; maintaining academic excellence with tighter fiscal constraints and undetermined shortfalls in revenue.
Simply said, providing the best education that our tax dollars can afford in order to prepare our children for the workforce and college. As a trustee, I will work responsibly with my fellow board members in determining the best way to meet this goal.
Ultimately, it is the superintendent’s responsibility to create the strategies and initiatives necessary to accomplish the goals of the school board of trustees.
3. What would you make a budget priority in the coming year?
GILMORE: In the upcoming year I would like to see staff pay become a budget priority. We are falling behind other districts in our area with regard to our current teacher pay and overall pay scales. No one has more impact on our student’s lives than the teachers that interact with them on a daily basis.
When we talk about giving our children the best education, it all starts with giving them the best teachers, staff, and administrators’ possible. Allowing other districts to hire better or more qualified staff members based on our starting pay scale is simply not acceptable.
We need to work to make KISD the number one choice for excellent educators looking to make Central Texas their home.
JONES: Unfortunately, we live in fiscally trying times; budgets are tight and funding is undetermined at both the state and federal level. We are in the process of re-evaluating our pay structure and there will be more discussions in this regard as the year progresses.
Safety is also paramount and we will continue to evaluate the feasibility of increased security on our campuses and bus transportation.
The board of trustees will be called upon to make tough choices if cuts are required, and KISD is no different than any other organization — everyone will have their favorite cow.
Should cuts be required, the board of trustees will make their decision after the superintendent submits his recommendations.
4. In what areas do you think the school district should improve?
GILMORE: I feel that Killeen ISD is doing an excellent job of educating students, but there is always room for improvement. The district needs to continue to innovate to stay in the forefront of technological advances for learning, but insure that the staff has the training to fully embrace the technology. I would like to see the Career Center continue to evolve and be flexible with coursework in order to provide state-of-the-art training for the changing needs of the workforce. Lastly, I would like to see the district remain focused on making sure that students are given every opportunity in the classroom for higher-level learning, and increased rigor in order to increase test scores, raise graduation rates, and prepare students for post-secondary education.
JONES: KISD has been a recognized school district for the past two years, up from its previous rating of academically acceptable. We need to focus on retaining this accomplishment. In addition, KISD continues to operate within a balanced budget under very trying times while continuing to receive the “Excellence in Financial Reporting” award, from the Government Finance Officers Association and Association for School Business Officials. I fully understand and appreciate that this significant achievement is the direct result of our dedicated teachers and staff who steadfastly follow Dr. Muller, a visionary leader who is patient and focused on student achievement. We must continue to support his efforts.
5. Do you favor keeping longevity stipends for teachers? Why or why not?
GILMORE: Longevity is a benefit that current Killeen ISD staff feels is very important in their overall salary and benefit packages. I am in favor of continuing this stipend program for all current staff. Employees were hired with the understanding that this was a benefit, and they chose to work here because of this benefit, among other things. I feel that we should honor this commitment to the employees, as many of them count on this incremental increase in salary when calculating living expenses and their retirement.
JONES: Like it or not, personnel costs account for over 80 percent of KISD’s annual total budget, and key to our ability to control costs will be the necessity to continue to evaluate the district’s pay structure, in particular the longevity pay component.
The best solution offered up to this point is to modify the pay system based upon recommended caps and grandfather those employees currently receiving longevity pay. This solution respectfully recognizes those dedicated, experienced employees who have stayed with KISD over time. This solution would also give employees guaranteed certainty as to what their pay will be, while allowing for better budgeting and payroll processing. However, I would go a step further. I believe we need to evaluate eliminating the “pay range scale” and give employees a true cost of living raise based on their individual salary.