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Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Baylor wide receiver Chris Platt (14) is looking forward to playing a season fully healthy.


Education
spotlight
Waco ISD board hires Belton ISD superintendent in split vote
 Brooke Crum  / 
 08.29.19

The Waco Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 5-2 Thursday to hire Susan Kincannon as superintendent, snagging her away from the nearby and fast-growing Belton ISD.

Trustees Norman Manning and Stephanie Korteweg cast the dissenting votes. Manning said in his comments before the vote that Kincannon is not the right person for Waco ISD and referred to his previous comments in the Tribune-Herald in which he expressed concern about Kincannon’s lack of experience with a student population as diverse as Waco’s.

Kincannon said after the meeting that she is excited about the opportunity to serve the students and families of Waco ISD.

“I was ready for a change, ready for a new challenge, and I’m ready for some professional growth,” she said of wanting to come to Waco from Belton. “I’m really excited to do it here in Waco ISD.”

Kincannon’s first day will be Sept. 5, and her annual salary will be $252,000, according to a copy of her contract. That is up from what Kincannon made in Belton, which was $215,000, but less than former superintendent A. Marcus Nelson’s salary of $277,000.

She said she wants to spend the next three weeks on campuses, walking the hallways and getting to know students, teachers and facilities. She also want to sit down with each principal and have a conversation about their needs and formulate a plan based on discussions with the staff.

Kincannon’s contract also includes reimbursement for relocation expenses from Belton to Waco, where she already has a residence. That is significantly less reimbursement for moving expenses than the previous superintendent, who moved from Laredo.

Veteran educator Hazel Rowe has been serving as the district’s interim superintendent since Nelson resigned March 21, two weeks after his misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest in Robertson County.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Derrick Smith, University High School assistant principal for juniors, greets Superintendent Susan Kincannon before the school board meeting Thursday when trustees approved Kincannon’s contract.

Before the vote, board President Angela Tekell took the opportunity to publicly address her professional and personal relationships with Kincannon. She said she has known Kincannon for 12 years, since Tekell began working at Belton ISD as their attorney, and the two developed a lasting friendship.

“That relationship has given me an opportunity to get to know her, to get to know her work and most importantly, to get to know her why. Dr. Kincannon became an educator because of the difference public education made in her life,” Tekell said. “There’s more than meets the eye. Over the last week especially, assumptions have been made about who this woman is based on how she looks and where she comes from, and I think we’ve all experienced times in our lives when people have either underestimated us or people have attributed certain thoughts or biases to us that were not fair, that we didn’t personally experience and that were hurtful.”

Tekell said she did not recuse herself from the vote after discussing that possibility with board members. She went on to tell a story about how Kincannon was placed in foster care at age 3 and did not realize her love of learning until her fourth grade teacher took an interest in her. That is why Kincannon became a teacher, Tekell said, because she wanted to instill a love of learning in every student.

Board member Allen Sykes agreed with Tekell that Kincannon has the skill set to lead Waco ISD.

“The selection of the superintendent is the most important role of the board of trustees,” Sykes said. “My decision to support Dr. Kincannon is based on her extensive work at the highest educational and administrative levels for an extended period of time, in addition to the site visit, which validated her broad knowledge and experience with strategic planning, curriculum and instruction, as well as her personal interviews.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Waco ISD board member Stephanie Korteweg addresses new Superintendent Susan Kincannon during the meeting. Korteweg voted against hiring Kincannon but said she will support her fully in the new role.

Korteweg expressed concern about how the only Belton ISD school to receive a D rating from the state this year has a student population that looks a lot like Waco ISD.

Both Manning and Korteweg told the Tribune-Herald last week they worry Kincannon does not have enough experience with a student population that looks like Waco ISD’s.

For example, about 45.5% of Belton ISD students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 77% of Waco ISD students, according to the Texas Education Agency website. Belton ISD has almost 12,000 students, and almost 53% are white. Waco ISD has just under 15,000 students, and almost 61% are Hispanic.

Additionally, seven Waco ISD schools received an F rating from the state this year, while no Belton schools did. One Belton campus, Southwest Elementary School, received a D.

“We can’t afford to let students slip through the cracks,” Korteweg said at the meeting. “I want and hope that you prove me wrong more than anything. I will do whatever it takes to support you in this endeavor in this district because the bottom line is it’s the students that matter.”

Manning also voiced concerns over Tekell’s 11-year working history with Kincannon as Belton ISD’s school board attorney and their accompanying friendship. The Tekells and the Kincannons share ownership of a house on the Brazos River with a couple of other people. The group rents out the house on Airbnb for $295 a night, according to the website listing.

Parent of four Waco ISD students Marlon Jones said at the meeting that he has submitted a complaint to the Texas Education Agency “regarding conflict of interest with board president and incoming superintendent.”

“The concern is that there is both business and personal relationships that create a conflict of interest and, I believe, cloud judgment in making decisions,” Jones said during public comments. “My hope is that item is not simply there as a formality but that we are truly considering what really goes into making the decision to choose someone as a leader. But when you have business dealings in terms of representing a district as an attorney, when you have personal business dealings that is owning a home that is rented out as an Airbnb, those, without a doubt, cloud vision.”

Jones also said he is upset because he sat in the same boardroom at the close of last school year with many community members and talked about what they were looking for in a superintendent.

“The things that we shared are not reflective of the superintendent that has been selected,” he said.

The board voted 5-1, without Korteweg, to name Kincannon the lone finalist for superintendent Aug. 7. Manning cast the sole dissenting vote. Korteweg said she did not attend the meeting when the board named the lone finalist because she needed more time to process her choices.

When the board announced the decision at the Aug. 7 meeting, no one from the school district or board publicly brought up for discussion Tekell’s working relationship with Kincannon.

With a goal of hiring a new superintendent before the start of this school year, the board decided to open a one-month window for applications, using the Texas Association of School Boards’ Executive Search Services firm to assist with the superintendent search. Applications were due June 19. The board had five days to review 84 applications before meeting to discuss their top five candidates.

The board brought in four candidates for the first round of interviews, but one candidate did not show up, leaving the board with three options, Manning said in a previous interview. When it came time for the second round of interviews the last week of July, the board was split between two candidates: Kincannon and an unnamed applicant.

Kincannon has served as the superintendent of Belton ISD since 2011, according to a Waco ISD press release. She has served as a public educator for 30 years, including as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and deputy superintendent.

Robin Battershell, the former top administrator for the Temple and Salado school districts, will serve as interim Belton ISD superintendent, while Belton searches for a new leader, the Temple Daily Telegram reported.


Higher_education
spotlight
Baylor, TxDOT brace for confluence of game day, holiday traffic during I-35 construction
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 
 08.29.19

Fans soon will flood Baylor University’s McLane Stadium for its first football game of the season, and the university is using maps, apps and plenty of reminders to plan ahead to avoid traffic snarls through Interstate 35 construction.

Baylor Associate Athletics Director Drew Pittman said the university’s event management and facilities division has been fine-tuning its game day game plan for the last five seasons at McLane Stadium, but this year it is dealing with the added challenge of construction along Interstate 35 near the stadium. Its first test during construction will come Saturday ahead of Baylor’s 6 p.m. kickoff against Stephen F. Austin State University, and Labor Day traffic flowing through town will add to the challenge.

“We will put out new information prior to every game because there might be changes regarding construction,” Pittman said. “There will be new routes that come into play, and that’s the biggest challenge this year.”

He said Baylor works with WSP, an engineering company, to come up with a traffic plan every year, a process that starts nearly as soon as the previous year’s season ends.

Returning students and families will have to navigate a few changes. The frontage roads on both sides of the highway have changed. The pedestrian bridge at Eighth Street has been torn down, along with the overpass at 11th and 12th streets. Southbound Exit 334A, which leads to Fourth and Fifth streets, will be closed along with a portion of Dutton Avenue that stretches from Fifth Street to Eighth Street.

Much like every previous game day at McLane Stadium, University Parks Drive will be closed from the Baylor Law building to Bagby Avenue, as will its northbound ramp for I-35, and a portion of Third Street from behind South Russell Residence Hall to Speight Avenue.

Pittman said one change will make the drive easier on some guests. The southbound exit for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be open for the first time since the stadium’s construction.

“We’re looking forward to that,” Pittman said.

He said the university plans to keep up-to-date information flowing throughout the season.

The university is working with the Waze app’s partner program to provide navigation to and from specific paid parking sites. Pittman said the school has used a similar program in the past, but Waze will update its routes based on closures as they happen.

Shuttles will start running to the stadium three hours before kickoff from the Ferrell Center, Speight Parking Garage and from Third Street and Franklin Avenue in downtown, where free parking will be available. A shuttle that complies with Americans With Disabilities Act standards will start running at 8 a.m. from the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative to a stop near Gate C at the stadium.

“We want to encourage people to come early,” Pittman said. “There’s some reduced lanes on the interstate, especially. There are a lot of activities at the stadium before kickoff, and we want to encourage people to enjoy those festivities and enjoy the game.”

The Texas Department of Transportation will continue to make a map displaying traffic and weather conditions, along with a list of closures planned for the next 24 hours, available at waco4bmap.org/#map, TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said. Travelers can even get a live look at traffic conditions through TxDOT camera feeds posted on the site.

TxDOT also will have extra signs out to direct traffic and alert drivers to closures, Roberts said.

The holiday weekend alone would have been enough to cause an increase in traffic, he said.

“In this case we have a first game day falling on a holiday weekend,” Roberts said. “We’re preparing for twice the traffic we’d normally see. There will be considerable traffic.”

That stretch of Interstate 35 usually sees about 140,000 vehicles a day, he said.


Government
Robinson OKs 1-cent tax rate hike for street maintenance, though some called for more
 Kristin Hoppa  / 
 08.29.19

Robinson City Council members approved an almost $23 million city budget proposal Thursday night with a boost in spending on streets that falls short of the boost some council members called for.

A 1-cent per $100 of property value tax rate increase for next year will, in part, fund the additional streets spending. In split votes Thursday, council members approved the budget and turned down a 1.5-cent rate increase that would have boosted streets spending further.

The new budget also includes $240,000 in salary increases for city staff, primarily the Robinson Police Department. Streets spending will increase from $130,000 last year to $285,000 next year. City staff recommended the budget with a 1-cent tax increase. Council members proposed the 1.5-cent increase, which would have made another $45,000 available for street work.

“I have a little more faith in our staff to bring a good budget, which I believe they did. They didn’t ask for any more,” Mayor Bert Echterling said. “Our street maintenance budget has been exponentially increasing, so I am happy with the increase.”

The city has budgeted $130,000 for streets the past two years and $50,000 to $78,000 each year from 2013 to 2017.

Council members Steve Janics, Brenton Lane, and Jimmy Rogers voted against the budget. Echterling, Mayor Pro Tem Jeremy Stivener, council member Jim Mastergeorge and council member Jimmy Eubank voted in favor.

After voting on the budget, council members discussed the property tax rate increase. City manager Craig Lemin drafted a proposed budget with a rate of 49.45 per $100 of property value, up from this year’s rate of 48.45 cents, which the council approved. Council members also weighed the option of a 49.95 rate for more street money.

The increase follows three years of rate cuts that started in 2015, when the rate was 50.53 cents.

The extra half-cent increase would have provided an extra $45,000 in revenue, allowing council members to raise the street maintenance spending from $285,000 to $330,000.

“I think that this is commendable for a council to care that much about a budget to be totally split over $45,000 in a $23 million budget,” Lane said. “I love the fact that we can all come together, share our sides and have a healthy debate whether that $45,000 is warranted.”

Lane and Janics voted against the 49.45 tax rate, both agreeing the 49.95 rate would bring a much needed help to city streets. Continuing to neglect streets could lead to the need for more costly repairs, they said.

Rogers said cities never like to see tax rate increases, but he was in support of the additional half cent tax increase in this case. Since the budget based on the lower rate was already approved, he decided to vote with the majority in approving the rate, he said. The city is at least moving in the right direction on street work, Rogers said.

“I think that extra $45,000 would have been a step in where the street maintenance budget needs to be,” Rogers said. “It is already tremendously higher than what it was, but it is still tremendously lower than where it needs to be.”

With the proposed rate increase, taxes on a $200,000 home would increase by $20 a year or a $1.67 a month.