Image: As the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees arrived for their two Board meetings on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, a large group of anti-tax protesters greeted them. Three Republicans and two democrats appear in this picture, which includes three renowned Republican leaders Mark Frank (holding the “Take the Board to the Board” sign), John Nicks (center, standing, red shirt), and Ginger Russell (red hair, standing, on left).
Conroe, May 16 – If there were any illustrations of what is wrong with the Conroe Independent School District (CISD) Board of Trustees, the Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Board meetings were those precise illustrations. After sadly accepting Montgomery County Elections Administrator Carol Gaultney’s Official Canvass of the 54% to 46% defeat for CISD’s bloated $807 million bond and tax hike, the Board listened for almost two hours to PowerPoint presentations from three CISD bureaucrats.
Don’t worry; several of CISD’s major vendors attended the meeting to lick their wounds and to pray for future bloated spending.
What was so striking, however, about the meeting was the abject failure of the Board to consider citizen criticism of the proposed bond. Instead, the Board only heard a presentation of why CISD should put another bond referendum forward from three of the top bureaucratic administrators. The meeting presentation would have been more appropriate six months ago before the Board decided to put the bond referendum forward. On Tuesday night, CISD’s administration just provided more of the same wants. In fact, disgracefully, Superintendent Curtis Null ended the presentation with a list of the projects CISD needs, a picture of which follows and should look rather familiar to most readers of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper:
CISD’s Board held two meetings on Tuesday night. The Board refused to announce the actual results of the election but instead received the Official Canvass in sealed envelopes for each Board member which they very quietly voted unanimously to approve.
Much to the Board’s chagrin, the small crowd in the audience at the Board meeting broke out into applause. The majority of the people in attendance at the meeting were representatives of the Children’s Hope PAC and other organizations which had opposed passage of CISD’s $807 million bond and tax hike.
Even though the purpose of the second meeting was to discuss the future of CISD, there literally were no regular citizens in attendance at the meeting other than the activists who had opposed the $807 million bond. The other people in the room primarily represented CISD vendors and included a few of CISD’s other bureaucrats besides the three who spoke for almost two hours.
Null indicated near the beginning of the meeting that CISD intends to rezone students over the summer of 2019, as CISD has intended for some time.
Null said, “We understand the results and we look to the future.” Null was quite literal in that comment. Obviously, Null and a majority of CISD’s Board refused to take any citizen concerns expressed during the bond referendum to heart.
The remainder of the CISD Board meeting clearly was an attempt to argue in favor of the $807 million bond and to set the stage for arguments in favor of CISD’s next bond.
The Board failed to invite any of the leading bond opponents to discuss with the Board the primary concerns over the bond, even though much of the leadership of the Children’s Hope PAC was in the room. Instead, Null indicated he and CISD would select focus groups to discuss the upcoming bond. Once again, CISD seeks to keep its entire dialogue with respect to the bond referendum internal and under tight control.
CISD Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice began his remarks to the Board by addressing them that “we’ll be seeking guidance from you.” Instead, however, Rice guided the Board along with his financial wish list, which the Board readily accepted.
Rice disclosed to the Board – and to the public for the first time – that CISD has $20 million in spare cash. Rice told the Board that CISD’s administrative bureaucrats want to put $10 million of those funds into a “sinking maintenance fund.” “Sinking” would appear to be the right word, since CISD will likely spend those funds on its exorbitant vendors’ prices instantaneously.
Rice and Null also expressed that CISD has two pending real estate contracts totaling $8.5 million – to buy “the Jacobs property on McCaleb Road” and to buy the “Littlefield property” on State Highway 242. Additionally, CISD wants to spend $1.5 million on new school buses.
Rice then told one of the whoppers of the many untruths the CISD administration uttered during the presentation. Rice informed the Board that, with a bond of $520 million or less, there would be “zero tax increase.” What Rice actually meant was that CISD would not increase the tax rate but that CISD would continue to push property tax appraisals aggressively higher, so that school taxes would continue to rise dramatically.
As a remarkable sign of how completely out-of-touch the current CISD Board and administration are with the citizens of Montgomery County who have reached their breaking point with respect to the amount of taxes, CISD Deputy Superintendent Chris Hines first told the Board that CISD was running short on classrooms and needs to construct new schools, but then…
…Hines advocated that he wants to expand the full-day kindergarten program and Hines wants to add a full day pre-kindergarten program as well!!!
At that point in the Board meeting, CISD Board member Scott Kidd, one of the four extreme liberals on the Board, made the completely fallacious comment, “By offering pre-K translates into better academic performance.” In fact, major studies have shown the opposite: that children fare far better in grade school when their learning during their first five years comes from parents rather than from institutional programs outside of the home.
It became clear at that point in the meeting that the entire purpose of the meeting was to advance arguments in favor of growth of CISD’s financial and real estate empire rather than meet genuine educational needs of children.
Amazingly, CISD’s Board continued to rely upon the January 1, 2019, demographic study of Population and Survey Consultants, which revealed that CISD does not need to construct new schools before 2026.
Null indicated that the administration would privately “reevaluate each project and see if we can find cost savings.” Clearly, Null and the Board were deaf to the grave concerns of CISD voters that the costs of CISD’s proposed projects are grossly inflated.
The one Board member who drew applause from the audience was Scott Moore, who was the only Board member to acknowledge the electorate when he said “we must consider feedback from the electorate and take into account the concerns.” Moore sounded sincere during the discussion, but clearly the intent of Williams, Trustee Skeeter Hubert, Trustee John Husbands, Hines, Null, and Rice was to begin the manipulation of public opinion, which they failed in the last bond election.
Null said, “Our intention is to bring you back information that would allow you to make a decision if you choose to bring it back in November.” He elaborated that the Board would have until August 19, 2019, to call a new bond election for the November General Election.
With only four months before mid-August, CISD apparently intends to act with far greater haste than the last bond process which resulted in terrible cost estimates and misplaced priorities.
Williams made clear that he intends to “communicate to the electorate the consequences of not passing a bond…I’d like to better educate the other 94% of the electorate that didn’t vote.” During the $807 million bond referendum, Williams and Null were the two individuals who made the most threats about what would happen if the bond didn’t pass.
Williams said, “It’s not a question of if we’re going to have another bond, it’s just how much.”
After the Board sat and listened to Null and the other CISD bureaucrats for almost two hours, Null concluded the meeting by turning to the Board and saying, “We thank you for your leadership. This time we’ll adjourn.” Null didn’t even allow the Board’s presiding officer, Williams, to adjourn the meeting.
The meeting ended when Null wanted the meeting to end!
CISD has carefully trained six of the seven current Board members to act passively, not to seek outside information other than what the administrative bureacrats provide, and only to consider the Superintendent’s proposed options. The willingness of the Board just to follow the school bureaucrats and provide no representation of the citizens whatsoever screamed loudly and clearly.