You’ve probably seen them.
The colorful, yellow and blue signs are popping up around the community, bearing the phrase “Vote Yes for KISD Kids.”
The message, encouraging passage of an upcoming bond issue for the Killeen Independent School District, is being pushed by a political action committee by the same name.
By law, the school district is prohibited from spending money on advertising to promote the bond issue, which would fund a new high school, a new middle school and renovations to older schools.
But since it’s the PAC that’s spending the money — more than $6,000 to date for large signs, as well as video testimonials and yard signs — there’s nothing unethical going on.
Still, some of the connections between the school district and the PAC have raised some eyebrows.
For example, three members of the Vote Yes for KISD Kids coalition served on the bond steering committee, appointed by KISD Superintendent John Craft, that shaped the two-part, $426 million bond issue that will go before voters later this month.
The PAC’s treasurer said last week the group is trying to promote “awareness of the issue, point people in the right direction and answer any questions.”
Apparently, “the right direction” means voting for the bond issue, which would cost the owner of a $140,000 house an extra $113 a year in property taxes for the 30-year life of the bond if both propositions pass, according to school district figures.
Given that the school administration has gone out of its way to educate district voters since the school board approved the bond election in February, it’s hard to believe the PAC is operating without the district’s consent, much less without its awareness.
It’s also hard to believe that three PAC members who served on the bond steering committee — two of whom helped formulate the initial presentation to the school board — would not inform the superintendent that they were organizing a political action committee to advocate for the bond.
Yet, last week, the district’s communication officer said district officials had no knowledge of the PAC.
To date, Craft has made about a dozen slideshow presentations to civic organizations, luncheons and at seven district-sponsored bond voter education meetings at various campuses throughout the community — the last one having taken place Monday at Skipcha Elementary in Harker Heights. He’s also made educational presentations to staff across the district.
Obviously, there’s a lot at stake.
Proposition A calls for $235 million in funding and would pay for a new high school and elementary school, as well as upgrades to existing facilities like intercoms, controlled access devices, perimeter fencing and shade structures for outdoor play at elementary schools.
Proposition B is asking voters for $191 million. The description on the ballot says the money will be spent on “the construction, acquisition and equipment of school buildings in the District, including the rehabilitation, renovation, expansion, improvement and consolidation of District facilities, and levying of the tax in payment thereof.” It doesn’t spell out how the funds would be spent.
With such a high price tag, district officials have worked hard to educate the public about the need for the bond money and the benefits the community would see if the bond passes in May.
To do that, Craft and other administrative officials have done what they could to control the bond process — and subsequently, the message.
In hand-picking the people who were invited to participate on the bond steering committee, Craft no doubt recruited people who not only represented various segments of the local business and education communities, but who would also be likely supporters of a bond initiative.
When it came time to consider what to include in the bond package, Craft presented a menu of options from which the committee could choose, though it was up to committee members to rank them by priority for inclusion on the bond package.
Once the school board unanimously approved the bond election, Craft was off and running, making educational presentations on virtually every campus, as well as other venues across the district.
The administration even placed display stands with information on the bond at each district campus in an attempt to educate staff, students and their parents.
At this stage, it’s tough to say whether the district’s efforts will be successful.
Attendance at the district’s seven school bond education meetings was spotty, with fewer than 100 people total at six meetings. The first meeting was canceled when no residents showed up.
However, it’s hard to say whether the low turnout indicates voter apathy or if residents believed they were sufficiently informed on the issue.
The district spokesman points to a survey taken last fall that showed strong support for a bond issue — though the poll was taken before the final bond initiative was set.
Also, the district is receiving a boost from the Killeen Business League, which contributed $12,500 to the Vote Yes for KISD Kids PAC.
Most of the 50-plus bond steering committee’s members are well connected in the community, and are no doubt doing their best to promote the bond and its benefits.
Yet there are those in the community who still have questions about how the district plans to spend the money that Proposition B would authorize — as the fuzzy ballot wording doesn’t match the specific projects the district has outlined.
Other residents, especially those living in the northern portion of Killeen, have asked why they should support funding for a new high school that will only serve southern areas of the city.
With early voting starting April 23, the district has done about all it can to educate voters, but the PAC’s job has just begun.
If the coalition wants to impact the election’s outcome, it’s going to have to do more. To get residents’ attention, the PAC will need a wholesale ad campaign across several platforms.
That means reaching the voters where they live.
But ultimately, the bond’s success or failure will depend on whether the district’s residents believe the funding is needed, whether it will be spent wisely, and whether they can afford it.
That said, those sunny little signs may be eye-catching, but they may not make much of a difference at the ballot box.