The Killeen school district superintendent made a surprise announcement about plans to seek another taxpayer-funded school bond while the district is still spending $426 million from the 2018 voter-approved bonds.
Superintendent John Craft said late Tuesday night the new spending plans are for high school stadiums and three new elementary schools. Craft said the goal was to eliminate portable classrooms from all campuses within the Killeen Independent School District.
Questions the Herald asked, that were not fully answered, include:
What is the amount Craft will seek for the bond?
Why didn’t the 2018 bond plan eliminate portables?
Why were the four high school small stadiums removed from the strategic facilities budget and moved to a new bond?
Is the district going for the large-size stadium that was dropped from discussions for the 2018 bond?
How much has been saved from the current bond and how will that money be used?
Here are some questions we emailed Thursday and Friday to Craft and district spokeswoman Taina Maya. Maya answered late Friday afternoon on their behalf.
Q: Dr. Craft had said the tax rate would be lower with this bond. Does he mean the amount of this bond would be lower than the last bond? Please clarify.
A: As a result of the .03 debt service rate savings on the 2018 bond (.22 cents reduced to .191) and property tax compression, as well as, House Bill 3 legislation, Dr. Craft anticipates the total tax rate to be lower than what was projected leading into the 2018 bond.
Q: The most recently approved tax rate for property taxpayers is $1.16 per $100 valuation. About how much could that go up if a bond request is approved? Also, when you say that, what is your estimate of the cost of this bond?
A: A final cost is contingent on the Bond Steering Committee’s recommendation to the Board of Trustees and voter approval.
Q: At a previous meeting, district officials said stadium upgrades would be paid from the strategic facilities fund. Will that money be used? If not, where is that money going?
A: The Bond Steering Committee will be asked to consider stadium upgrade options at the meetings. As articulated on the Strategic Facilities Fund documents, that money is allocated towards future schools.
Q: The bond, if a request is made, would be voted on before multiple schools from the 2018 bond are completed. Why have the bond vote now instead of waiting for those projects to complete?
A: We are starting the conversation early to ensure we maintain project phasing and to reduce annual construction escalation.
Q: Why didn’t the district target the portables in the previous bond?
A: Portables were part of the 2018 Bond plan; in fact, this was a large part of the conversation amongst committee members in all of the meetings.
Q: Can we get what the initial plan was for the 2018 bond?
A: Everything that was included in 2018 bond as well as addressing Harker Heights and Peebles Elementary schools.
Q: Also, what has changed since then? For example, the construction behind the current Nolan Middle was a change from the original bond plan. Can we get a list of those changes?
A: The district was able to provide a brand-new campus rather than renovating a 55-year-old facility, Clifton Park Elem. This approach also significantly reduces distractions to the learning environment.
Q: Are there any specifics the district is wanting to accomplish with the money from this potential bond election?
A: The district would like to hear input from the Bond Steering Committee regarding the elimination of portables buildings as a safety measure, as well as, research options associated with high school stadium options.
Q: We are showing that the district currently has 290 portables. The new bond would aim to get rid of all of those?
A: This would be determined by the Bond Steering Committee’s recommendation.
NEWS OF BOND
Craft made his bond announcement at the end of Tuesday night’s board meeting. The topic of a bond had not been on the agenda. The Herald reported the announcement Wednesday morning, and Craft announced late Wednesday that he would have a media briefing on the topic Thursday morning.
Craft said Thursday he is targeting the May 2020 election for the proposed bond and sending invitations to some community members to serve on another bond committee. A specific number for the cost of the bond and the tax rate associated with the bond were not disclosed by Craft.
“It really depends on the conversation,” Craft said. “It’s a little bit early, it depends on the conversation and if a recommendation is brought forward to the board of trustees.”
However, Craft did give an estimate of how many elementary school campuses the district would need to eliminate portable buildings.
“We anticipate that we will need three elementary campuses for growth and to eliminate portables particularly south of I-14 and then likely two north of I-14 again to eliminate portable buildings,” Craft said. He had mentioned earlier that three schools would be proposed for the bond but did not say how the fourth and fifth elementary schools would be funded.
The Herald asked Craft on Thursday and again via email, why he removed funding for stadiums at three existing high schools from the strategic facilities plan’s budget. His response did not address the change.
At the Aug. 13 board meeting, board members were told any costs for athletic facility expansion at the three existing schools would come from the strategic facilities plan budget, according to a presentation given by Adam Rich, the district’s director of facilities.
The total cost for the upgrade of stadiums at the three existing schools and the additions to the planned new high school 6 auxiliary field would be around $28.2 million, Rich said at the August meeting. Currently, the high schools share Leo Buckley stadium at Killeen High School.
Also at that August meeting, Rich discussed what it would cost to build a new stadium along the lines of Leo Buckley Stadium, and the price came out to around $41.3 million.
At the media briefing Thursday, Craft discussed removing portable buildings.
“We anticipate that we will be able to eliminate all portable buildings associated with our secondary campuses with the opening of Nolan Middle School in 2020 and the opening of High School #6 in 2022.”
Although Craft did not provide a cost estimate, construction of the district’s 36th elementary school, funded by the current bond, is expected to cost $45 million and serve an estimated 1,050 students, according to district estimates in May.
The second issue that will be discussed with the committee will be the building of athletic stadiums at all of the comprehensive high schools within the district, which are Ellison, Shoemaker and Harker Heights, as well High School No. 6 as it is constructed.
“There has been interest that has been expressed in and about the community to, in essence, create home fields at our other three comprehensive high schools and then, of course, bring High School #6 up to that standard,” Craft said. “A seating capacity of somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 students, a field, turf field, a locker room for visitors and bringing those to 6A competitive high school stadiums.”
The estimated cost and tax rate would be determined by the request submitted to the board by the bond steering committee after meetings have concluded, according to district spokeswoman Maya.
BOND STEERING COMMITTEE
The committee would be comprised of between 100 and 150 community members and the first meeting might be held the first week of November.
Invitations will be sent to all of the members that served on the bond steering committee in 2017/2018 and board members will present nominations for individuals to sit on the committee.
Invitations will be sent out by the end of this week, according to Craft.
Craft said he hopes the four to five meetings that will be held can be completed by the third week of December.
Craft wants any recommendation that is brought forward to be presented to the board in January. The board would have to approve the recommendation in January in order for the bond to make it onto the May 2020 ballot.
In 2017/2018, 17 out of the 112 members of the bond steering committee were either employees, former employees or board members within KISD, according to Maya.
“While there are no criteria for serving on the Bond Steering Committee our goal is to invite members that represent a diverse cross-section of our district,” Maya said. “Ideally members would include parents, non-parents, campus staff and community/business members.”
In 2018, voters approved two different propositions of a bond that totalled $426 million.
The goals of this bond were to improve district ADA, safety and security of schools and the renovation, consolidation or construction of schools within the district.
The following schools were included in the bond:
High School No. 6 located near Chaparral and Featherline Road in Killeen
Elementary School No. 36 on Clear Creek Road in Killeen
Maude Moore Wood Elementary School, opened this year, on Morganite Lane in Killeen
The renovation of Killeen High School
The new Nolan Middle School in Harker Heights
The consolidation of East Ward and West Ward Elementary Schools on Rancier Avenue in Killeen
The consolidation of Pershing Park and Sugar Loaf Elementary Schools near Wheeler Avenue in Killeen
The consolidation of Clifton Park and Bellaire Elementary Schools at the intersection of Jasper Road and Florence Road in Killeen.
The district did not provided the requested updated list of bond changes. The following changes to the above plan had been made by February 2019:
East/West Ward: The East Ward and West Ward consolidation project had an initial budget of $44 million for a renovation of the current East Ward campus. This was adjusted to $48 million in September 2018 to allow for a brand new building to be constructed on the East Ward site.
Clifton Park: The bond originally budgeted $21 million for a renovation of Clifton Park Elementary as part of a consolidation with part of the Bellaire Elementary student population. However, this plan was adjusted in a unanimous board vote Oct. 9, 2018, to provide for a new campus to be constructed next to the site of Nolan Middle School. This plan would allow for almost the entirety of the elementary schools’ populations to remain together, rather than splitting up Bellaire students, KISD officials said. This raised the cost of this project from $21 million to $40 million.
Students at Nolan already had been slated to be moved out and rezoned because an additional middle school was in the strategic facilities plan for Harker Heights. It’s not being built with bond funds. Nolan students remain at the school while construction is underway on the campus.
Pershing Park: The plan for the Pershing Park consolidation was also adjusted to account for the Bellaire population going to the Nolan Middle School campus. The original budget for this consolidation went from $51 million to $42 million.
KISD’s portable classrooms
Here is a list of the district’s portable classrooms, provided by the district via email on Sept. 20, 2019.
School # Classrooms
Trimmier Elementary 11
Nolanville Elementary 5
Harker Heights Elementary 9
Peebles Elementary 13
Clarke Elementary 8
Clear Creek Elementary 9
Killeen High School 9
Ellison High School 24
Harker Heights High School 28
Shoemaker High School 9
Clifton Park Elementary 8
Pershing Park Elementary 5
Sugar Loaf Elementary 2
Bellaire Elementary 7
Hay Branch Elementary 2
Reeces Creek Elementary 4
Haynes Elementary 5
Fowler Elementary 8
Career Center 14
Gateway Complex 9
Nolan Middle School 8
Ira Cross Elementary 3
Iduma Elementary 3
OC Hobby Elementary 5
Timber Ridge Elementary 1
Saegert Elementary 2
Skipcha Elementary 6
Cedar Valley Elementary 3
Manor Middle School 1
Eastern Hills Middle School 5
Palo Alto Middle School 6
Liberty Hill Middle School 5
Live Oak Ridge Middle School 1
Union Grove Middle School 11
Audie Murphy Middle School 1
Patterson Middle School 13
Smith Middle School 3
Atkinson Facility 2
Oak Creek-Old Fowler 2