Accusations of unethical behavior have replaced education as a campaign topic between a Keller school board member and his opponent.
The claims of wrongdoing are tied to the school district’s successful $169.5 million bond election in November, its pro-bond political action committee Vote Yes for Keller Schools and contributions made to the PAC by architecture and construction firms.
The first shot was fired in late March when Place 6 Trustee Brad Schofield wrote a speech for a resident to give during the public comment portion of a school board meeting, accusing challenger David Gerda of using his influence as a member of the KISD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee to help an architecture firm win a contract.
Schofield also contends that it is unethical for the leaders of Vote Yes to sit on the oversight committee because of the contributions the PAC received from VLK Architects of Fort Worth and other firms bidding on bond projects.
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“I brought this up because it’s all about ethics,” Schofield said.
Gerda, who co-chaired the Vote Yes PAC before being named to the bond oversight committee, argues that Schofield violated campaign ethics by using his position as a board member to circulate false allegations against him.
“He’s trying to use innuendo to insinuate wrongdoing,” Gerda said. “He has no proof.”
The Place 6 seat is the only contested race in the Keller school district.
Giving her ‘a little help’
The speech was given by Marie Howard of Keller, a Republican precinct chairwoman and president of the Boiling Point Tea Party.
Howard said Schofield approached her about his concerns.
“He’s limited in what he can say because he’s an elected official,” Howard said. “I’m not because I’m a citizen and I have freedom of speech.”
She spoke during the “Audience With Individuals” portion of the March 26 board meeting, giving all but one paragraph — with just a few words changed — of a two-page speech written by Schofield and emailed to Howard that day.
The email and the text of the speech were obtained by the Star-Telegram through a public information request.
Schofield said he encouraged Howard to speak and didn’t think it wrong to give her “a little help in preparing.”
The speech accuses Gerda and Vote Yes treasurer Matthew Mucker — both members of the bond oversight committee — of using their influence to get VLK the contract to design a $23.5 million addition and renovation at Keller High School and a $6 million addition at Bear Creek Intermediate School.
VLK contributed to the Vote Yes PAC twice: $5,000 on Sept. 24 and $1,600 on Dec. 22.
The firm was awarded the contract by the school board on Dec. 16 in a 5-2 vote, with Schofield and Trustee JoLynn Haussmann casting dissenting votes because of VLK’s initial contribution to the PAC.
It’s not uncommon for architectural firms and construction firms to donate to pro-bond PACs. For example, two architectural firms that contributed to Arlington First PAC during the May 2014 Arlington school district bond election were later awarded design contracts by the Arlington school board.
Hudson Huff, the Keller school district’s executive director of facility services, said that district officials advertise for interested architecture firms to submit qualifications for a design project. An administrative review team then chooses the top three or four firms to come in for interviews with a subcommittee, which is made up of school district administrators and some members of the bond oversight committee.
Neither Gerda nor Mucker was on the subcommittee that recommended VLK, district officials said.
Gerda said his first meeting with the bond oversight committee was Dec. 11, two days after the subcommittee made its recommendation on VLK.
“The accusation that I could influence a meeting I didn’t know existed for a company I didn’t know was up for the work is impossible,” Gerda said.
Huff said that VLK came out on top because of its extensive experience in the district and its level of preparation for the interview. The VLK team was the only one that visited Keller High School to view the scope of the work before the interview, he said.
Of the 22 schools built in the Keller district since 2000, VLK designed 15, along with an earlier addition at Keller High.
Schofield’s role in Howard’s speech came to light at the April 16 school board meeting after Matt Strong addressed trustees during the public comment period.
“Using the system for political gain is purely wrong,” Strong said.
Strong, another bond oversight committee member who was active with the Vote Yes PAC, said he obtained Schofield’s email to Howard after making a public information request.
The intent of the public comment period is to “listen to the words of citizens,” not for “covert attacks by members to manipulate the process,” he said.
Amanda Bigbee, general counsel for the Keller school district, said there is no current policy preventing a trustee from scripting a resident’s remarks.
Board President Jim Stitt said he would like board members to review the policy pertaining to the public comment period to prevent its misuse.
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231
Early voting ends Tuesday
Early voting runs until Tuesday for Saturday’s municipal and school board elections.
Questions: Call the Tarrant County Elections Administration at 817-831-8683.
Early voting locations
▪ Tarrant County Election Center, 2700 Premier St., Fort Worth
▪ Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St., Arlington
▪ Elzie Odom Athletic Center, 1601 NE Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington
▪ Center for Community Service Junior League of Arlington, 4002 W. Pioneer Parkway
▪ South Service Center, 1100 SW Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington
▪ St. Joseph Catholic Church Parish Hall, 1927 SW Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington
▪ Tarrant County Subcourthouse, 700 E. Abram St., Arlington
▪ B.J. Clark Annex, Room 4, 603 Southeast Parkway, Azle
▪ Bedford Public Library, 2424 Forest Ridge Drive
▪ Colleyville City Hall, 100 Main St.
▪ Crowley ISD Administration Building, 512 Peach St.
▪ Euless Public Library, 201 N. Ector Drive
▪ Forest Hill Civic and Convention Center, 6901 Wichita St.
▪ All Saints Catholic Church Parish Hall, 200 NW 20th St., Fort Worth
▪ Diamond Hill/Jarvis Library, 1300 NE 35th St., Fort Worth
▪ East Regional Library, 6301 Bridge St., Fort Worth
▪ Griffin Subcourthouse, 3212 Miller Ave., Fort Worth
▪ Handley-Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St., Fort Worth
James Avenue Service Center, 5001 James Ave., Fort Worth
▪ JPS Health Center Viola M. Pitts/Como, Lower Level - Suite 100,4701 N. Bryant Irvin Road, Fort Worth
▪ Northwest Branch Library, 6228 Crystal Lake Drive, Fort Worth
▪ Southside Community Center, 959 E. Rosedale St., Fort Worth
▪ Southwest Community Center, 6300 Welch Ave., Fort Worth
▪ Southwest Regional Library, 4001 Library Lane, Fort Worth
▪ Southwest Subcourthouse, 6551 Granbury Road, Fort Worth
▪ Summerglen Branch Library, 4205 Basswood Blvd., Fort Worth
▪ Tarrant County Plaza Building, 201 Burnett St., Fort Worth
▪ Worth Heights Community Center, 3551 New York Ave., Fort Worth
▪ Asia Times Square, 2615 W. Pioneer Parkway (corner of Pioneer Parkway and Great Southwest Parkway), Grand Prairie
▪ The REC of Grapevine, 1175 Municipal Way
▪ Haltom City Northeast Center, 3201 Friendly Lane
▪ Haslet Public Library, 100 Gammil St.
▪ Hurst Recreation Center, 700 Mary Drive
▪ Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway
▪ Kennedale Community Center, 316 W, Third St.
▪ Mansfield Subcourthouse, 1100 E. Broad St.
▪ Dan Echols Center, 6801 Glenview Drive, North Richland Hills
▪ North Richland Hills Public Library, 9015 Grand Ave.
▪ Richland Hills Community Center, 3204 Diana Drive
▪ River Oaks City Hall, 4900 River Oaks Blvd.
▪ Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Administration, Building 6 - Training Room, 1200 Old Decatur Road, Saginaw
▪ Southlake Town Hall, 1400 Main St.
▪ Watauga City Hall, 7105 Whitley Road
▪ Solana Office Complex Westlake Town Offices, 3 Village Circle
▪ White Settlement ISD Administration Building, 401 S. Cherry Lane