Image: The billboard with the eyes of T.J. Eckelburg, Oculist, were a major symbol and important theme about eyes, vision, and vigilance in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” This version of the bill board is from the 1974 movie version of the book. Citizens should keep their eyes closely on Conroe Independent School District and its Board of Trustees.
Conroe, May 6 – Citizens of the Conroe Independent School District (CISD) and of Montgomery County, Texas, must keep their eyes with vigilance on Conroe Independent School District, the largest taxing entity in Montgomery County and the primary source of public education in our community. What the citizens learned during the campaign against CISD’s $807 million bond referendum suggests, however, that the time has come for the Board of Trustees of the school district to take full charge of the school system and act as the citizen representatives to control the direction of public education.
It’s time for all of us to wake up and watch the CISD with the same vigilance we must apply to the Montgomery County government. We should all become the “eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg,” to borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, constantly watching CISD’s Board of Trustees, Superintendent, and administration.
The next Board of Trustees meeting will be on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at 6 p.m., at the Deane Sadler Administration Building, 3205 West Davis, Conroe, Texas 77304. If you want to sign up to make a citizen comment, you should do so between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. by filling out a form and submitting the form to the school district’s secretary, a very simple procedure.
Board of Trustees
The seven-member Board of Trustees revealed their dereliction of duty during the bond process. Rather than act as overseers whom the citizens have elected to run the school district on behalf of the public, the Board of Trustees act more as a booster club for the Superintendent and CISD administration. The Board, through a so-called “code of ethics” has actually agreed not act as overseers and investigators of CISD curriculum, management, finances, and operations. They allow the Superintendent to operate the school district has he wants to do so.
In actuality, however, the Superintendent has become little more than a “face” who acts as a public spokesman for CISD as well. These observations raise an important question: who actually runs CISD? The answer lies somewhere between Deputy Superintendent Chris Hines, a long-term occupant of that role, the assistant superintendents who largely remain behind the public view, and CISD’s large vendors who clearly have enormous control over the school district’s policies and overall direction.
The experience of Dale Inman, a pro-citizen grassroots conservative whom the citizens elected to the Board in November, reveals much of the story. Inman has rejected the “code of ethics,” because it constrains his ability to oversee CISD operations. In executive sessions, according to three different sources, the Board of Trustees secretly meets to harass Inman and to discuss strategic issues with the Superintendent and the CISD administration, which such decisions should occur in the open before the viewing public, in accordance with Texas law.
The Board of Trustees clearly has no input into CISD pricing decisions on major purchases and has sleepily relied upon CISD’s vendors and top-level staff to rubber-stamp those costly decisions.
Rezoning and Enrollment Patterns: No bond necessary
CISD’s Superintendent, Null, made clear in private meetings in late January and early February, 2019, with Montgomery County government officials that a major rezoning of CISD’s school attendance zones would occur between the current school year and the year which begins in the Autumn of 2019, regardless of whether or not the $807 million bond passed.
That rezoning is somewhat unnecessary right now. CISD’s January 1, 2019, demographic study, however, from Population and Survey Analysts (PASA) of College Station, shows that by 2025 CISD will need to move students from schools which PASA projects will suffer from slight enrollment bulges by that time frame. Schools in The Woodlands are already beginning to see declining enrollments, which PASA projects will accelerate by the middle of the next decade.
By the time when CISD sees increased enrollment necessitating adding some new schools in the northeast and eastern portions of the school district, the school district will have accumulated sufficient funds to construct those schools without ever passing any bond. CISD needs to control – reduce – administrative salaries and focus instead of long-range planning and ensuring that teachers received adequate compensation and that students receive the instructional materials they need.
Purchasing and Maintenance
In the past month, The Golden Hammer received a flood of communications from current and former employees within the Purchasing and Maintenance Departments of CISD. Those employees have made clear, on the condition of anonymity, because Null and others have already threatened their jobs if they dare speak with this newspaper, that, among other problems:
- Vendors, especially PBK Architects and some of the large general contractor firms such as Ellisor Constructors and Durotech, make most of the purchasing decisions for the school district, a troubling reversal of how such decisions should occur;
- Null and the Board of Trustees have essentially no role whatsoever in purchasing decisions and merely rubber-stamp those decisions which mid-level administrators make without any public transparency;
- Project management is essentially non-existent within CISD, so that major purchasing and capital projects, such as the work currently occurring at Conroe High School and recent projects at Moorhead Junior High School and Caney Creek High School, have suffered gigantic cost overruns;
- Cost estimation is essentially non-existent without CISD, so pricing emanates either from “spitballing” or from accepting large vendor prices prounced as edicts from the vendors;
- Enormous conflicts of interest exist within the Purchasing Department about which the Board and administration are largely unaware;
- The school district runs political consulting services through a sub-contractor of PBK Architects, which actually gave legal advice to the Board of Trustees on the “dos” and “don’ts” of the $807 million bond election in a secret meeting with the Board.
Spending tax dollars on politics
The citizens of CISD have seen right before their eyes that CISD is eagerly willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on straight-up political advocacy.
Mailers, e-blasts using parent email addressed provided solely for educational purposes, and administrators’ direct campaigning in favor of the $807 million bond were both illegal and unethical.
Do you realize that Superintendent Curtis Null spent more than one-third of a school year going around Montgomery County campaigning for the bond during normal school operation hours? Null receives a salary in excess of $330,000 per year. Why should the citizens pay for that obvious waste of tax dollars?
CISD has begun its budget process. For taxpayers, this area is another where the rubber meets the road. CISD has show completely fiscal irresponsibility. Its budget has exploded with spending much faster than the rate of growth of student enrollment, while its instructional dollars per student statistics have declined.
In all fairness to the Board of Trustees, they don’t know anything about how to budget. Every year, they accept the CISD bureaucracy’s proposed budgets without questioning any of the spending. The Board conducts numerous secret meetings behind closed doors under the ostensible rationale that they are meeting with the school district’s attorney.
Budget meetings should occur entirely in the open. A school Board doesn’t need an attorney to create a budget.
CISD’s Board of Trustees should impose the self-discipline to reduce overall spending by at least one percent (1%) from the previous fiscal year, as the County government and several other governmental entities are considering. Those funds should come from reductions in administrative salaries, not from teacher salaries or from instructional expenditures.
Other than general PowerPoint presentations made to glisten at CISD Board of Trustees meetings, so that the Board will do little more than “ooh” and “aah” at how nice a job the presenting administrator has done, the Board of Trustees of CISD has no input into the curriculum of the school district.
In a school district where approximately 11% of the high school graduates require remedial reading and education courses before they can take college-level classes, does a school district really need to spend money on air soft gun ranges, expanding culinary classes, giant agricultural facilities, curtains for elementary school stages, mock courtrooms, wooden dance floors with 4,500 mirrors each, and LED lighting?
In a school district where the six high schools have failed to secure their front entrances properly, which would actually not cost much money at all, why is CISD wasting money on teaching hundreds of students how to be hosts, hostesses, servers, busboys, and busgirls in restaurants during regular school hours? Since the school district is preparing those students to work at McDonald’s when they grow up, why doesn’t CISD get McDonald’s to chip in and pay for the security required at those six high school entrances?