It’s technically too late for voters to get involved in the selection of the next Killeen school board member.
If the Killeen Independent School District doesn’t announce its intention Monday to call a special election in November to replace departed trustee Carlyle Walton, it will miss the secretary of state’s deadline to do so.
But such an announcement is unlikely. The board — which would have to vote on calling an election — isn’t scheduled to meet again until Aug. 28, and it’s too late to post a legal notice announcing a special meeting for Monday.
That leaves the board with one option — appoint an interim trustee to serve until next May’s school board election, at which time voters can choose someone to serve the final year of the term.
That choice would not seem to be optimum, as far as the district’s voters are concerned.
Certainly, the board is within its rights to choose a representative to fill a vacancy. One major factor in going that route is the expense of an election — an estimated $75,000 in associated costs, such as procuring voting machines and printing ballots. That money is not in the district’s budget.
But in choosing appointment over an election, the democratic process is diminished — at least in the short term.
For one thing, an appointed board member quickly assumes the advantage of incumbency. In the last 13 years, every appointee to the board has won re-election at least once.
In early 2005, KISD board member Dr. Brad Buckley stepped down, and the board subsequently appointed Dr. Ron Rainosek, a local dentist, to fill out the remaining 16 months of Buckley’s term. Rainosek was re-elected in 2006 to a full three-year term and was re-elected in 2009 for another full term, serving nearly seven years in all.
In November 2006, the board appointed restaurant owner Terry Delano to the board, replacing Billy J. Mills, who, like Buckley, resigned because he was moving outside the district. Delano served more than 10 years and was board president before deciding against seeking re-election in May of this year.
In January 2006, investment representative Butch Menking was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Scott Isdale, who also left the board because of a change of residency. Menking, who now serves on the Killeen City Council, served nearly five years on the KISD board before stepping down to devote more time to personal endeavors.
Banker Mike Helm was appointed in July 2004, replacing Barbara Menking, who resigned her seat. Helm served nearly seven years on the board — several of those as board president — before stepping down in May 2011.
Now, the board likely will choose a replacement for Walton, the former president and CEO of Metroplex Hospital who resigned his seat in July to take a new position on the East Coast.
The remaining board members fall into two occupational categories — education and business. Four trustees are former educators in Corbett Lawler, Marvin Rainwater, Minerva Trujillo and Shelley Wells. Susan Jones is a financial adviser and JoAnn Purser is a business owner.
Both groups bring important experience to the boardroom table, but it’s interesting to note that none of the members are parents of students who are currently enrolled in the district.
No doubt, the board will be deliberate in its selection of a new trustee, as district residents should expect. However, members must be careful not to fall into the trap of automatically gravitating to like-minded individuals when making their choice.
Indeed, it would be easy for the board to tap the list of residents who served on the bond steering committee last fall in order to find a potential appointee. Certainly, many of the people on that list have great qualifications that would serve them well on the school board. But in selecting an appointee from that hand-picked list, the board would run the risk of overlooking some residents who might be just as qualified but are not on the board’s radar.
One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is by going outside the boardroom.
In 2006, then-board President Brenda Coley said board members talked to community leaders and interviewed several candidates before deciding on Delano as the appointee.
Talking to community leaders is certainly a sound approach. Not only will representatives from several segments of the community be valuable in suggesting potential nominees, but they can also provide board members with input on the district’s goals and operations.
It could be argued that a school board appointment isn’t a big deal, especially when there are six other votes cast on every issue the board decides.
However, each board member serves as a representative of the public, and that means bringing their constituents’ concerns and viewpoints to the board for consideration. As such, the choice of appointee carries considerable weight — as well it should.
Ideally, district residents would be able to cast their votes for the new board member in November, but that scenario is highly unlikely at this point.
The best voters can probably hope for is a chance to weigh in at the polls in next May’s trustee election, should the board opt to appoint an interim member.
Still, the board can do its part to ensure public participation in the appointee selection process by going out into the community and gathering input on potential candidates for the position.
And the board can afford to take its time. By law, an appointee doesn’t have to be in place until Jan 18, which is 180 days after the board accepted Walton’s resignation.
Ultimately, the decision is the board’s to make, but more input means a better, more informed choice.
And the school district’s residents should expect no less.