The Killeen school district’s hiring of a local television news anchor as its new chief communications and marketing officer has raised a few questions — and a few eyebrows.
The district announced last week that it had selected Taina Maya, a morning news anchor at CBS affiliate KWTX, to be its new spokesperson, succeeding Terry Abbott, who resigned abruptly in mid-May.
However, the announcement also noted that Maya would be staying on at KWTX in the short term, while simultaneously assuming her duties with the Killeen Independent School District.
While the decision to stay with KWTX was apparently Maya’s — she wanted to give the station adequate time to find a replacement for her anchor job — the decision to accept the dual employment situation was a bad one on the part of the school district — and particularly, on the part of Superintendent John Craft, who did the hiring.
As the official spokeswoman for the district, Maya has an obligation to be impartial toward all media outlets and to share information with each fairly and equitably.
However, as long as she has the KWTX job, Maya would have the opportunity to impart information to her media employer before sharing it with other media outlets.
None of this is to suggest that Maya would consider such action. In fact, in an email response to the Herald on the subject, she was adamant that she would uphold the highest standards of journalism and education.
Still, it is unfair of the KISD superintendent to put her in this position, and it should have been a consideration when she was given her start date with the district.
It’s fair to ask why Craft was in such a hurry to fill the position. As things stand, Maya is scheduled to leave her TV job within a few weeks. KISD administration officials have filled in to perform the public information, or PIO, job since it was vacated in mid-May. Would a few more weeks really be a hardship — especially in the summer, when school is not in session, and the district offices are closed on Friday?
Obviously, this was a quick hire.
According to the school district, the job was posted on the district’s website on May 24 and closed on June 10 — not very long, and not much notice to prospective applicants.
In an email response to the Herald, the district said 25 people applied for the post, 12 were interviewed electronically, and four finalists were interviewed in person.
Ultimately, Craft selected Maya for the position, which will pay a hefty $136,800.
Board member JoAnn Purser said Friday that the board did not take part in the interview or selection process. She said she was informed Sunday that Maya would be starting in the job Monday.
In her nine-year career with KWTX, Maya has worked as a reporter and anchor, winning a Lone Star Emmy for her breaking report on the Fort Hood shooting in 2009. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
Still, Maya’s selection is somewhat surprising, since she has never worked in public relations, education or marketing.
Nonetheless, Craft had praise for Maya in her hiring announcement, saying, “Taina Maya has demonstrated her abilities as an extremely articulate communicator and has an astute sense of the multiple mediums for which to most effectively reach our stakeholders.”
Despite such high praise, it is still difficult to justify the job’s salary — not just for Maya, but for anybody in the position.
The position’s $136,800 salary equates to more than one-third of the $310,000 KISD pays its superintendent.
Maya’s pay is only $10,000 below the average salary paid to school district superintendents in the state of Texas, according to a 2018 Texas Education Agency study.
It’s also nearly the salary equivalent of three starting teachers in KISD.
By comparison, Abbott’s salary at the time of his departure was a little over $123,200, but KISD officials noted Friday that he didn’t have a four-year college degree. The district now requires a four-year degree, and oversight of KISD-TV and marketing were added to the position’s job description.
Still, Abbott’s extensive experience more than made up for his lack of a degree. At the time of his hiring in 2017, he was chief communications officer for the Leander Independent School District. He previously served as the chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education, deputy commissioner for communications to the U.S. Social Security Administration, press secretary for the Houston Independent School District, chairman of Drive West Communications and as the press secretary to the governor of Alabama.
During his tenure with the district, Abbott was instrumental in helping to secure passage of the $426 million construction bond issue, which voters approved in May 2018. He coordinated and attended more than 30 public presentations across the district and attended countless bond committee meetings. In the leadup to the vote, Abbott regularly provided information on the proposed bond’s details, timeline and potential impact on students, parents and taxpayers.
Abbott was also the first to provide real-time electronic updates and news releases about board actions while meetings were in progress.
In addition, he was extremely responsive to requests for information.
From the outside, the hiring of Maya seems to represent a shift in focus toward a greater social media presence — a point Craft made in his announcement last week.
Maya’s longtime visibility as a television journalist also makes her a natural fit to deal with the public and provide information from the district.
However, it remains to be seen if Maya is held to the same high performance standard maintained under Abbott.
Providing timely, factual information from the school district is an important task, but that alone doesn’t justify the money or prestige that KISD is investing in the position.
Unless some significant marketing and promotional responsibilities are added, it will be difficult to explain the need for this high-dollar position, especially to dedicated educators who have worked in KISD for a long time — and for a lot less.
Maya deserves the support of the district, area media outlets and the public at-large. It’s in everyone’s best interest that she excels in her new role.
However, the school board members need to ask some serious questions about their lack of input into the selection process for such a key position — and the salary it conveys.
Most likely, the one who has the answers is their own hire — the district superintendent.