Transparency questioned on $426 million KISD bond issue

The Killeen Independent School District’s bond steering committee has agreed to recommend a $426 million bond issue to the KISD Board of Trustees at its Dec. 12 meeting.

The committee’s consensus Thursday came after weeks of meetings and discussions based on information presented by KISD administrators. Also in the mix was a community survey conducted by Baselice & Associates of Austin.

“I want to be very, very transparent throughout this entire process,” KISD Superintendent John Craft said during the first meeting of the KISD bond steering committee Nov. 2 at Harker Heights High School.

KISD gave the public access to the bond steering committee process through a website: www.killeenisdbsc.org.

The public has access to documents and videos on the website, and could post questions and comments about the bond issue process, as well.

Craft has been less informative about how he chose members of the committee that would make important recommendations about spending residents’ property tax money. Craft said he was inviting more than 100 community members to serve on the committee, but has yet to divulge how the committee members were selected despite an official public information request submitted by the Herald on Oct. 31.

At weekly committee meetings, KISD officials presented via Powerpoint slides, potential projects school officials had compiled, along with background information.

By Nov. 16, the committee had prioritized proposed projects, among them a new high school, a new middle school, three new elementary schools, and consolidations/renovations of older schools.

The cost of those projects, if all were included in the bond issue, would exceed $700 million.

The committee continued to move toward creating a recommendation for the KISD board, including a project list and bond amount to cover those projects, which will be presented at the Dec. 12 regular board meeting. The board must vote by a Feb. 16 deadline whether to call for a bond election for the May 5, 2018, ballot.

INFORMATION NOT DISCLOSED

During its first three meetings, however, the bond steering committee made decisions without knowing the city of Killeen would need a related bond issue to fund infrastructure for the KISD school construction projects, that also would increase taxes for Killeen property owners. That information was not included in any of the Powerpoint presentations given by KISD at the meetings.

Those participating in the community survey conducted by Baselice & Associates were not informed an additional bond issue by the city could be on the same May 5 ballot.

Craft did not reveal this information to the KISD Board Members, either, according to KISD board president Corbett Lawler, and board members Carlyle Walton and Shelley Wells.

On Tuesday, Craft and Megan Bradley, KISD chief financial officer, gave a presentation on the potential bond issue at the Killeen City Council meeting, just prior to attending a KISD board workshop.

“We know he has been in conversation with the cities,” Lawler said on Wednesday about discussions with Harker Heights and Killeen officials regarding building new schools and other projects.

When told about the Tuesday Killeen City Council meeting, Lawler acknowledged, “This is the first I’ve heard that it [a city bond issue] would be on the same date as ours.”

Walton said, “It’s news to me.”

Wells said she sat next to Bradley during the dinner prior to Tuesday’s KISD board workshop. “Megan told me they had been to the city, but didn’t say why.”

Neither Craft nor Olson expressed any concern about the rather secretive way the city’s bond announcement transpired.

“In my mind, they are companion issues,” Olson said. “You are not doing schools without the infrastructure to reach those schools. If they move forward with a bond, we need to move forward with a bond.”

Craft said in an email Wednesday, “City Manager Ron Olson and I have discussed the potential of a new high school program, as well as future middle school program to be constructed along Chaparral, just south of the police station. We continue to work collaboratively with our city and county partners to ensure infrastructure and forward planning is in place to support future educational facilities. This is an important part of strategically planning for the future growth of our communities and school district.”

No information about these discussions was mentioned to the bond steering committee or the KISD board. No agenda items over the past few months, for KISD board meetings or workshops, hinted at such discussions.

After the prospect of a Killeen city bond became public last week, Craft was asked during the Thursday bond steering committee meeting if the results of the community survey would have changed if information about the city’s prospective bond issue had been included.

Matt Gamble, vice president of operations for Baselice & Associates, who had provided an overview of the survey at that meeting, had already left the building.

Craft could not provide an answer.

Craft’s pledge of transparency is further challenged by notations on the bond issue calendar distributed to board members, bond steering committee members, and on the newly created website.

Sessions during December and early January will deal with preparing the recommendation for presentation to the KISD board, developing a bond communication strategy, messaging and branding, and consulting with district’s financial advisor and bond counsel.

Only a few names of those involved in these sessions have been made public. Bond steering committee chairmen Brenda Coley, Bill Kliewer and Hal Schiffman will help with preparing the recommendation for the board.

Huckabee, Inc. will participate in the sessions on messaging, strategy and branding.

RBC Capital Markets of Dallas and the law firm Andrews Kurth Kenyon LLP will be consulted during the January sessions.

These sessions will not be open to the public, and are deemed “internal work,” according to Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer.

Craft told the bond steering committee members at the Thursday meeting the bond issue will not so much be a marketing campaign as an educational effort.

The tentative plan is to visit every school campus, as well as civic organizations, to spread the word. “We’ll be pounding the pavement to make sure the community receives the information,” Craft said.

He mentioned the bond steering committee members will be asked to help in this effort, as “leaders in the community.”

Exactly what the message will be, and how transparent it will be, should be known by mid-January.

Craft said, “it will be an incredibly busy spring” to get the bond passed on the May 5 election.


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