Image: CISD’s total budget increase, per CISD, Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The single page of information shown in the slide above is the entirety of the information about proposed expenditures, which the CISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously – like a rubber stamp – to approve the budget, which requires a giant tax increase on local taxpayers.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, August 19 – Last night, Tuesday, August 18, 2020, the Conroe Independent School District (CISD) Board of Trustees unanimously voted, 7 to 0, to approve a $576.99 Million Budget for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year with only one page of information, no detail regarding expenditures, and nothing but a 12 minute “budget workshop” presentation by the school district’s administration. CISD, by far the largest taxing authority in Montgomery County, underwent no budgetary review whatsoever from any elected official representing the citizens who must pay the taxes.
Approval of the proposed administration Budget locks the school district into an enormous tax increase heaved onto the shoulders of local taxpayers.
When CISD Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice gave a four-minute presentation during the Board meeting, the Trustees failed to ask any questions about the proposed expenditures exceeding a half a billion dollars. No citizen attended the so-called “public hearing” last night and no one commented on the budget.
Trustee Ray Sanders noted, “We’re only approving the budget right now. Next month we’ll approve the tax rate as recommended.” In other words, the Board views its role as little more than a rubber stamp for approval of the administration’s wishes. Rice quickly added, “We won’t change the expenditure budget after tonight.”
Superintendent Curtis Null noted that, by approving the budget last night, CISD is now locked into the tax increase, because otherwise “it would become a deficit budget.” Rice and Null quickly reminded the Board that CISD has never adopted a deficit budget in its history.
There was no other discussion about the budget whatsoever before a rapid-fire unanimous vote to approve the massive increase in expenditures.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed that the CISD Board received no information other than the one page of increased expenditures shown in the photograph at the top of this article. Even the heavily-liberal Montgomery County Commissioners Court reviews several hundred pages of proposed expenditures before passing on the approximately $345 million County government budget, which is actually a much smaller budget than CISD’s in dollars spent.
The spending and taxation increase will constitute a more than 2.3% tax increase, according to a presentation CISD’s Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice made to the Board of Trustees during a “budget workshop” on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at a time when unemployment in Montgomery County is 12.25%, more than the national average, largely as a result of government mandated shutdowns related to the virus and to the huge downturn in the petrochemical industry.
CISD’s property tax appraisals have risen 5.71% during the past year. Therefore, the “effective tax rate” or “no new tax revenue rate” for CISD, under Texas law, is $1.1848 per $100 valuation, meaning that would have to be the tax rate for local taxpayers not to suffer a tax increase during the coming Fiscal Year 2020-21. Despite the pendency of the worst economic crisis Montgomery County, Texas, and the Nation have faced in many decades, CISD proposes to increase taxes by setting the tax rate at $1.2125, almost 3 cents above the “no new tax revenue rate.”
The Board of Trustees sat mute in total silence both on August 4 and last night (August 18), as they are little more than a rubber stamp for CISD’s administration, which dictates policies to the “do-nothing” Board. The Golden Hammer has confirmed, through two sources inside the school district, who have requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, that CISD’s administration has provided no backup documentation, Board books, or financial information to the Board of Trustees, which the administration knows will just approve the tax increase, without question or investigation.
According to Rice’s presentation to the Board on Tuesday night, CISD is assuming that the school district will continue to grow in a linear fashion by 1,500 students per year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Rice, however, failed to bring to the Board’s attention a recent survey, which CISD conducted with respect to the precise issue of how many students intended to return to CISD during the pandemic. Last month, CISD sent 65,000 surveys to parents of last year’s attending students. Only 16,084 of the students’ parents returned the surveys. Of the 16,084 returns, only 10,339 of the parents indicated their students would actually return, while 5,745 indicated they would only participate in CISD programs online. CISD failed to ask how many of the parents would home-school their children rather than return them to the school district in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the massive depression of salaries for private individuals and families due to business closures, business failures, and layoffs, CISD intends to go forward with a massive across-the-board salary increase for every employee of the school district. Administrators will receive a 2.5% across-the-board increase in their salaries, administrative support 3.5%, campus police 5%, and teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors 3%. The total cost to taxpayers of the pay increases will be $12,495,868.
CISD is denominating the pay increase a “cost of living increase” but that makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, inflation during the past twelve months has only been 0.6% in Montgomery County, according to the Montgomery County Budget Office as well as the United States Bureau of Economic Statistics in the United States Department of Commerce.
Amazingly, Conroe ISD also intends an enormous hiring increase of over 300 full-time employees (212 teachers, 88 support), which will cost taxpayers $14.93 million. That hiring increase also assumes that the school district’s enrollment will grow by 1,500 students, a number which, of course, has no statistical basis, given the pandemic and economic downturn conditions facing Montgomery County.
CISD intends to increase expenditures to $576.99 million during the 2020-21 school year, up $24.66 million from the 2019-20 school year. Shockingly, CISD projects that its budget will yield a surplus of $5.46 million for which the school district also seeks to tax local taxpayers.