Editor's note: The following editorial reflects a change concerning the granting of bids for design and construction projects for Texas school districts.
The Killeen Independent School District is bound by the Professional Services Procurement Act in the Texas Government Code, under which design and engineering services are not bid competitively. Instead, firms are chosen from a pre-approved pool. In the original editorial about the recently passed $426 million bond election, a call for the district to entertain competitive bidding for design of the projects funded by the bond was in apparent conflict with those guidelines.
Make no mistake about it — last weekend’s Killeen school bond election was a big deal.
And not just for the Killeen Independent School District, which will gain $426 million in taxpayer funds for construction, thanks to approximately 3,700 district voters who said “Yes to KISD kids” at the polls.
As a result of the voters’ approval of the two bond propositions, the district will get a major face lift over the next five years — to include a new high school, three new elementaries and renovations and upgrades to several older campuses.
The new schools are expected to address the district’s overcrowding problem, particularly at the high school level — as well as largely eliminate portable buildings on most campuses.
But the impending building boom will have a substantial impact on the district’s taxpayers — who will foot the bill to the tune of an extra $173 a year for a $143,000 home, over the 30-year life of the school bonds.
Area developers stand to gain from having new schools built in areas where they have, or plan to build, residential subdivisions. A brand new school — or even a significantly remodeled existing school — can be a substantial selling point when marketing an area to homebuyers.
The new schools and new homes will require new roads — and someone has to pay for them.
That’s the problem facing the Killeen City Council, as the area where the new high school will be built is served by Chaparral Road, a narrow, two-lane pavement.
Obviously, since the road is in a fast-growing area, it must be widened and improved.
But now, with a new high school opening by fall of 2022, the school district has essentially forced the city’s hand.
Earlier this year, as the school district was preparing to launch its bond initiative, KISD Superintendent John Craft went before the Killeen City Council to discuss the bond and the need for road infrastructure to support the proposed new high school.
The council decided against calling a bond election this year, instead agreeing to focus on seeking other sources of funding for the project.
Now that the school is on the way to being a reality, it’s decision time for Killeen lawmakers. Since the county owns all but about a quarter-mile of the roadway, it would be logical if the council seeks help from the county commissioners on project funding. It’s also possible the city will turn to the Killeen Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization, or KTMPO, for federal money to upgrade the road. However, KTMPO projects are prioritized several years out, so the Chaparral project may not make the cut anytime soon.
In fact, the city is looking at upgrading a group of roads in the area south of town — including Featherline Road and East Trimmier Road — with a price tag of $30 million.
Killeen will also have to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure in the area of the new schools over the next few years — and that won’t come cheap, either.
For a city that is struggling to keep its budget in the black, any extra large expenditures have the potential to push the city toward deficit spending.
Obviously, it’s important that the school district and city work together to coordinate projects and share costs, when possible. Consequently, the two entities have agreed to a joint meeting in the near future, at which mutual interests and concerns will be discussed.
Such a meeting would have been a good idea, even if the bond issue had failed. But with the passage of the nearly half-billion-dollar initiative and all the development it will bring, the meeting is absolutely essential.
It would be tempting for school district officials to take the results of the bond election and simply move ahead — and indeed, plans are already underway to get the building process started.
But the district owes it to the voters — both the 57 percent who supported the bond issues and the 43 percent who did not — to be careful, deliberate and fully transparent in going forward.
Already, the district has vowed to be “aggressively transparent” in sharing information about the various projects that will be funded by the bonds — and that’s a laudable pledge.
But the district must do more than offer highlights of each project as it unfolds.
It is essential that the selection process for architects and builders be open and fair. In accordance with Texas law, the district has selected several pre-approved firms that are qualified to do design and construction work for the district. Notably, Huckabee, an Austin-based architectural firm, has designed 15 campuses for the district since 2002 -- and the firm also had a six-month contract with the school district that ended May 5 to help market the $426 million bond to voters.
While that campaign was apparently effective, it should have no impact on the awarding of district contracts for bond-funded design projects. Other pool members should receive equal consideration by the school board and administrative staff.
Lastly, the district must consider the human side of the equation as it moves forward with the bond-funded construction projects.
In a late April meeting, on the second day of early voting for the bond initiative, the school board and administration officials expressed confidence that they would be able to fund a 2 percent raise for all district employees in the coming budget.
Three days after the bond’s passage, however, board members and district officials backtracked, citing lower-than-expected revenue projections from the county tax appraisal district that could leave KISD about $5 million short of funding the raise.
The timing of both discussions had some educators crying foul — asserting the district intentionally sweetened the pot for employees ahead of the bond vote, then pulled back after its passage.
Certainly, district officials can’t be blamed for being realistic when it comes to assessing the revenue numbers — that’s their job. But it’s reasonable to ask why they pitched a likely raise for employees before they knew whether the tax numbers would support it.
Legally, the money from the bond can’t be used for salaries, and no doubt most district employees understand that.
But as KISD embarks on perhaps the biggest construction initiative in its history, it’s important that the board find a way to properly compensate the district’s valued educators, administrators and support staff.
Multimillion-dollar bond issues mean a lot to the district and our community — but so do the people who do the hard work to help our children succeed.