Image: Conroe Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Null finally got his beloved bond package passed on the second try on November 5, 2019, although his methods were questionable and required major assists.
Eric Yollick, Guest Reporter to The Golden Hammer
Montgomery County, December 1 – Curtis Null, Superintendent of the Conroe Independent School District (CISD), is the Tenth Most Powerful of the Power Top Ten, the ten most powerful people in Montgomery County. It took two tries, but Null, who holds a Ph.D. in Professional Leadership from the University of Houston, finally got his beloved $653 million bond package passed on the second try in the November 5, 2019, General Election.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, continues the tradition of listing the Power Top Ten, the ten most powerful people in Montgomery County. The Power Top Ten doesn’t commemorate the ten best people in Montgomery County necessarily, but the most powerful people who are actually able to accomplish political or policy goals. In other words, he or she can get things done in Montgomery County. This year is the third that The Golden Hammer is publishing this list. In 2016, the former Publisher of this newspaper (the Guest Reporter of this article) published the list on social media before this newspaper began.
Curtis Null is a nice guy and has a gift for coming across that way when he makes presentations to groups such as the Chamber of Commerce meetings which love every word emanating from his mouth. There’s a nicer and better version of Null, however, which one gets to see when he visits school campuses. There’s no question whatsoever that Null loves the children of CISD. He enjoys seeing them thrive academically and in athletics the latter of which was his primary means of rising through the administration of the school district.
The two school bond referenda tell an important story about how Null harnesses power to get CISD the money he and the other top-level administrators want to borrow, tax, and spend. The first referendum, $807 million, was far too ambitious and included far too much truthful information for voters to evaluate it and come to the decision that it was a terrible proposal. It failed on May 4, 2019.
The second referendum, $653 million, was actually the same as the first (with two relatively small changes) but with (1) far less information made available to voters, (2) far more careful control of the limited information the school district disseminated, (3) a political campaign using tax dollars rather than private contributions from the vendors who will benefit from the construction contracts under the bond package, and (4) some financial skullduggery to make the proposal appear far more benign to the bottom line of taxpayers than it really was. The second referendum also benefitted from the Texas Legislature’s decision in House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 2 during the 86th Legislative Session to spend the state surplus on so-called “property tax relief” which was actually nothing of the sort and on a teacher pay raise ($1,000 of which was “discretionary” and provided Null and the school district with a tool to scare teachers into campaigning openly for passage of the bond). It passed on November 5, 2019, although a $23.7 million Proposition B for artificial turf thankfully failed.
Null got it done!
Null showed he could harness his resources to get done what he and CISD’s vendors wanted to get done. That is the definition of “power” in this series of articles in The Golden Hammer.
Why, then, you ask, is Null only #10 on the Power Top Ten List? This series of articles does not make value judgments about any of the named individuals’ actions. Nevertheless, the reality of the operation of CISD’s administration is the limitation upon Null’s power. And it’s not the CISD Board of Trustees. They’re sheep who follow what the administration tells them to do.
Rather, the limitation upon Null’s power within CISD is the reality that it is really a triumvirate which runs that school district and Null is only the most public of the three triumvirs. The triumvirate includes Dr. Chris Hines, the Deputy Superintendent, who really runs the operations of the school district, and Darrin Rice, CISD’s Chief Financial Officer, who has shown his skill at manipulating numbers but also revealed his inability to control his emotions during public presentations. Both Hines and Rice are enormously talented and highly-trained in their jobs. They’re far less public than Null whose primary job is to act as the public face of CISD.
Curtis Null is a nice person. He deserves to be in the Power Top Ten. He also deserves a lot of credit for getting the second bond referendum passed. Null showed enormous self-discipline and focus during his public presentations (not so much sometimes in private meetings). Nevertheless, Null required the substantial assistance of Hines, Rice, the hyper-politicos on CISD’s Board, and the frightened teachers and administrators to get Null’s job done.