Board to adopt anti-teacher budget next
Conroe, August 13 – The Conroe Independent School District (CISD) Board of Trustees, with its singular focus of following the directions which the CISD administration issues, will likely approve a $683 million bond package tonight by a 6 to 1 vote to put to voters in a referendum on November 5, 2019. CISD has manipulated the accounts of the school district so that all of the spending in the failed May 4 $807 million bond package will proceed with the exception of two projects, decommissioning the Jett Center and construction of a new teacher training facility.
In contrast to the CISD Board of Trustees, the Citizens Budget Committee recommended a lower overall budget for the school district but also recommended higher teacher pay raises than the CISD administration recommended. Clearly, the CISD administration has chosen to give itself a substantial pay raise and spend all funds on construction projects rather than give the teachers at the core of the children’s future in the school district the compensation they deserve.
House Bill 3, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law in June after the Texas Legislature passed the measure on a decisive bipartisan vote, was to provide property taxpayers a substantial 7 cent reduction in their tax rates which would accompany substantially lower tax bills. Nevertheless, CISD will actually increase taxes on Montgomery County families with a steep 20.45% increase in the tax rate for Debt Service in the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget. The result will be that CISD’s total taxes on the average taxpayer in Montgomery County will increase from this year’s assessed taxes.
By jimmying the Debt Service tax rate gigantically upward, CISD will then attempt to propose the $683 million bond package under the false auspices that the package will involve no tax increase. In actuality, CISD will impose the tax increase first in the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget and then in massive property tax appraisal increases the school district will push through its voting control of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District Board of Directors. If the November bond package passes, taxpayers in Montgomery County will suffer the largest tax increase in the history of the school district.
Property taxes result from multiplying a home’s property tax valuation amount by the tax rate. CISD has pushed 6.75% property tax appraisal increases during the last Fiscal Year and intends to increase the Debt Service tax rate enormously as well. The increases will wipe out all benefits Montgomery County taxpayers would otherwise enjoy from the Texas Legislature’s efforts to achieve property tax relief.
How are they getting away with these massive increases?
CISD’s administration has met with the entire Board of Trustees one-by-one to lobby them to support the enormous tax increase and the gargantuan bond package, as three sources inside the central administration office of the school district have confirmed on condition of anonymity.
CISD Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice has misrepresented to the public and to the Board a major component of House Bill 3 in repeated statements where Rice has claimed that the legislation prohibits school districts from using any maintenance and operations funds to pay down debt service. In actuality, House Bill 3 does prohibit the use of tax rate increases in maintenance and operations funds to pay down debt service. Nevertheless, the law does not prohibit school districts from paying down debt service through previously-accumulated funds, regardless of whether they emanated from Debt Service taxes or from Maintenance and Operations taxes, the two components which make up CISD’s tax collections.
CISD has accumulated a massive cash reserve far in excess even of the Texas Association of School Board’s recommended cash surplus for school districts. That cash reserve would allow CISD to reduce debt service for the coming Fiscal Year 2020, so that the Debt Service tax rate could remain at $0.22 per $100 valuation. But CISD has chosen not to reduce actual debt service with available funds, so that it has the ability to create a pretext for the massive increase in the Debt Service tax rate to $0.265 per $100 valuation. By manipulating the dollars CISD must pay in Debt Service in the coming Fiscal Year, CISD will have the ability to impose the tax rate increase necessary to support the gargantuan $683 million bond before the bond package must face the voters in the November election.
In other words, rather than waiting for voters to approve the $683 million bond package, CISD will impose the bond tax increase by fiat through its budget, and then try to convince voters that there is no “tax increase” associated with the bond, when in actuality CISD jimmied the tax increase up front by refusing to use excess funds to pay down debt service.
Financially, CISD has the ability to pay down debt service up front, so the Debt Service tax rate would stay at its present level of $0.22 per $100 valuation. Instead, CISD’s administration has proposed increasing the Debt Service tax rate to $0.265 per $100 valuation.