Northeast Tarrant

Tense issues in education impact Keller superintendent search

AP

The battle in Austin over school vouchers and funding for public education can impact both sides of the search for a new superintendent of Keller schools, according to consultants coordinating the process.

Parents and educators want a leader who will advocate in Austin for Keller schools while potential candidates want widespread community support for public education.

“The tension people feel is always heightened during a legislative session,” said Mike Moses, a former Texas education commissioner who leads School Executive Consulting, Inc. with education attorney David Thompson.

Moses and Thompson were in Keller recently to conduct focus group sessions with parents, students, teachers, business people and community members about the state of the district and what they want in the next superintendent. Randy Reid will retire in July after five years leading Keller schools. Moses and Thompson also conducted the search in 2012.

Moses noted the school voucher issue, the transgender bathroom bill and proposed changes to the Texas Teachers Retirement System as some of the most contentious issues this session.

“People can feel demoralized. Part of the job of a superintendent is to lift people up and remind them their work is still important,” Moses said. “It’s not easy, but that’s the charge.”

The Keller focus groups said the district’s biggest challenges were managing tight school funding, growth, equity in facilities and meeting the needs of all children with the area’s changing demographics. They want the next superintendent to have experience as a teacher, principal and superintendent, be approachable, visible, willing to talk with those who disagree with him or her and be an advocate for Keller schools.

Potential candidates want to know, “Is that a community that values public education?” Moses said.

“Public education is under attack in the state and in the country,” he said.

Superintendents want to be in an environment where they can succeed, which requires the support of parents, employees and community members, and Moses said the Keller focus group indicated widespread support for public education.

“Skimming” revenue from growing property values

Thompson said that school finance also is a common concern during a legislative session and was mentioned frequently in the Keller district focus groups.

This year, some members of the Senate are pushing vouchers, which would give taxpayer dollars to private schools and homeschooling parents. The House is less receptive to vouchers, with members pushing for revenue from increased property values to go back into public education.

Thompson said that state officials were “skimming” excess revenue from rising property values and using them for non-education purposes, to the tune of about $1.5 billion. The way the Texas school funding formula works, each district is given a per pupil amount — which doesn’t change with growing tax values — for the operating budget. Schools do directly benefit from growth with bond funds.

A bill in the House would return that growth to public education.

“We think the taxes people pay for schools should stay with schools,” Thompson said.

Superintendent job search ‘getting good attention’

The application process closed April 4, and the consultants met with Keller trustees April 10 to go over applicants. Board members were to select five to seven candidates to come for interviews in late April.

In early May, Moses and Thompson plan to have a second round of interviews with the top two candidates, who will be asked to bring their spouses and have dinner with board members. As early as the second week of May, they may be able to do criminal and full background checks on the top choice, with plans for trustees to announce a lone finalist around May 15.

By state law, school district officials must wait 21 days before signing a contract with a new superintendent after the announcement of a lone finalist. The person could be in Keller ready to work by Aug. 1.

Moses said the Keller job is getting good attention because of the district’s reputation. The superintendent of Frisco schools recently announced his retirement. Other area vacancies include Red Oak and Waco.

For more information on the search, go to www.kellerisd.net and look for the Superintendent Search tab.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland

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