What do you think about the Killeen school district and its educational priorities?
If you live inside district boundaries, you may be asked to share your views in the next few days.
That’s because Killeen ISD has hired what it terms an “outside, independent firm” to conduct a phone survey of district residents to gauge their views on a range of education-related topics.
It’s all part of an initiative to put a bond issue before voters next spring that could fund up to $500 million in district construction — including such big-ticket items as a new high school and three elementaries.
The survey’s results will be used by the recently seated 52-member bond steering committee in making recommendations on the size and scope of a proposed bond.
The school district’s communications director last week described the survey’s target audience as “a random, stratified sample representative of the KISD community demographics, to guarantee scientifically valid results within a margin of error, which is standard in public opinion polling.”
This is certainly a laudable attempt at including a cross-sampling of the district’s residents in the planning process. But it has some shortcomings.
For example, it’s hard to say who the survey’s likely respondents will be.
Although Baselice and Associates, the Austin-based survey company, plans to call both land line and cellphones as part of the sample group, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee equal, representative responses.
Since land line users tend to be older, they may skew the demographic among that category of respondents. Further, many cellphone users don’t regularly respond to random numbers that pop up on their phones, so getting a significant portion of targeted cellphone users to take part in the survey may be somewhat problematic.
No doubt, Baselice has considerable experience conducting such surveys and likely employs strategies to compensate for sampling problems, but it remains a consideration.
In addition, the district’s unique demographics may skew the survey responses themselves. The transient nature of the Killeen area’s military population may result in more pro-bond responses from short-term residents who aren’t concerned about the long-term tax bite.
On the flip side, older, land line users with no school-age children may be more inclined to have negative opinions about a proposed bond package.
The survey’s short time frame is another potential pitfall. The district is trying to complete the phone survey before Thanksgiving, which is about 12 days away. But after Friday, school will be out for the holiday — meaning some potential survey respondents may be off traveling to visit friends and family.
While the survey company may well achieve the sample size it is aiming for, it’s questionable whether it will be as representative of district residents as had been planned.
Ultimately, the best way to gather public input would have been to use focus groups — with participants solicited well in advance, provided with the necessary background data and given ample opportunity to air their views on the proposed bond initiative.
A combination of response options — such as focus groups, a phone survey and an online version of the poll — would make for an even broader cross section.
Of course, the ultimate public feedback will come at the polls — and if the bond package moves forward, residents will have their chance to weigh in at the ballot box on May 5.
For now, KISD officials likely will be focused on one of three options proposed by the district’s bonding company. The options on the table are priced at $175 million, $350 million and $500 million. The projected tax impact for the owner of a $150,000 home, minus the homestead exemption, would range from $44 annually for the $175 million bond to $209 for the $500 million plan.
Those numbers don’t sound too bad at first glance, but given the fact that property appraisal values jumped more than 6 percent in the Killeen area last year, some homeowners may be unwilling to add to their tax bite. Further, the bond would have a lifespan of 30 years, meaning the $150,000 homeowner would pay an extra $6,270 in district taxes to fund the top-tier plan.
And those tax numbers would double for the owner of a $300,000 home.
Certainly, the district has an urgent need to build new facilities and repair existing structures.
In the 15 years since the last KISD bond was passed, the district estimates its enrollment has grown by nearly 13,000 students. District projections call for an increase of another 5,000 students by the 2026-27 school year.
Three new elementary schools, a middle school and a high school are listed on KISD’s Strategic Facility Plan, and could be included in the bond issue. A stadium, estimated to cost $50 million, is no longer on the table, Superintendent John Craft said last week.
Also under consideration are renovations to 12 older school buildings, including replacing more than 200 aging, inefficient heating and air conditioning units.
The purchase of new school buses also has been mentioned as a possibility for inclusion in a potential bond.
That’s a lot to consider, and the steering committee has just four more weeks to present its recommendations to the school board for consideration.
Given that shortened time frame, it’s debatable just how fully the public survey results will be considered as part of the deliberation process.
That said, the district has promised the results of the survey will be made public as soon as it is complete and presented to the school board Dec. 12.
The board will then work toward calling a bond election by the Feb. 16 deadline.
Hopefully, the committee can agree on a proposal that reflects both what the district needs and the taxpayers want.
The first step down that path is gathering public input that is representative of the district’s population as a whole.
The phone survey is just one aspect of that input.
Each bond steering committee meeting is open to the public. Also, information about the bond process is available at the committee’s website: KilleenISDBSC.org. Residents can also leave comments and ask questions on the site.
Bottom line: This bond election is about more than your pocketbook. It’s about what you want the school district to look like over the next decade.
Whether you get a survey call or not, it’s time to get involved.