The Killeen Independent School District is going to have some big shoes to fill.
After 11 years with the district, including the last six as superintendent, Robert Muller is leaving his $245,000 post in August to take on a clinical associate professor’s role at Texas A&M University.
Since he took over the leadership of Killeen ISD in 2008, Muller has overseen a district that has been challenged by rapid but uneven growth, a transient student population, ever-changing state testing requirements and uncertain federal funding.
But over the past six years, Muller has proved adept at managing the policies and resources of a constantly changing district — not always an easy task.
With nearly 42,000 students, the Killeen school district is the largest between Austin and Dallas. Consequently, it sports a substantial annual budget — $377 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
By comparison, the current fiscal year operating budget for the city of Killeen is more than a third lower at $235 million.
Indeed, the Killeen school district could be viewed as a city unto itself, with 55 campuses, more than 2,700 teachers and 6,100 employees overall. After Fort Hood, the school district is the Killeen area’s largest employer.
But with an educational background in economics and administration, Muller has been up to the challenge of not just overseeing the district, but improving it.
During his tenure, KISD has added three schools, modernized others and opened the district’s Career Center. Another campus will open in the fall. The district’s enrollment has swelled from 38,700 to over 41,700 students.
Also under his leadership, ESL classes were expanded to all campuses, the bilingual program was reconfigured for the upcoming year, and a centralized math center was created at the Jackson Professional Learning Center.
Muller’s tenure has not been without some controversy — including teacher layoffs in 2011 and a difference with the board over the choice of the district’s employee insurance provider. Most recently, he recommended closing Fowler Elementary for economic reasons — a decision that drew fire from several teachers and parents.
But overall, Muller’s time at the helm was positive for the district, its employees and its students.
Killeen school board members were stunned by the news of Muller’s resignation, but they were unanimous in their praise of the departing superintendent. Trustees used words such as “integrity,” “objective” and “extremely intelligent” in offering their assessment of Muller’s leadership.
Now, the board faces a major challenge in choosing Muller’s successor. With his departure just over four months away, starting the search process is a major priority.
It also presents a challenge to the four candidates seeking the open Place 4 seat on the KISD board. Whoever wins the seat will be part of the selection process — an extremely important task.
Finding the right person to lead the district won’t be easy. Killeen ISD’s identity as a large district in a predominantly military community calls for special skills.
Muller was an expert on the subject of federal Impact Aid. In fact, he is president of the Texas Association of Federally Impacted Schools. This is key, because Impact Aid accounted for $44 million of the current Killeen ISD budget. But with military spending decreasing and budget battles in Washington ongoing, future levels of Impact Aid funding are uncertain.
The next superintendent not only will need to be familiar with the process on Capitol Hill, but also how to plan a district budget with multiple funding scenarios.
Certainly, the board must consider hiring from within. But trustees also must look outside the district to find someone who has all the qualifications necessary to keep the district moving forward.
Ultimately, the board needs to conduct a thorough, deliberate search for Muller’s successor, even if it takes a little longer than they would like.
For the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers, this is one decision the trustees need to get right.