Conroe ISD deploys educational resources, citizen tax dollars to campaign for $807 million bond

Conroe ISD deploys educational resources, citizen tax dollars to campaign for $807 million bond

Conroe, April 25 – Faced with citizens who have begun to recognize the falsities and half-truths behind the gargantuan $807 million bond and tax hike set for voter referendum on May 4, 2019 (Early Voting has begun), Conroe Independent School District (CISD) has crossed far over the line of ethics to utilize public dollars and public educational resources to propagandize in favor of the bond. CISD has expended enormous sums of public tax dollars for impermissible advocacy in favor of the $807 million bond and tax hike.

Yesterday, April 23, 2019, CISD sent an e-blast late in the afternoon from each of its schools to the list of parents of children enrolled in the schools. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed, from two sources inside of CISD’s administration who have requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, that Superintendent Curtis Null instructed principals at each of CISD’s schools to utilize the parent email list for enrolled students at each of the schools in order to send the e-blast.

The e-blast went to the enrolled email addresses to the parents of all of the 63,091 students enrolled in the CISD. The total email list exceeds one hundred thousand (100,000) names. Officials at the Freedom and Liberty Conservatives PAC, a local grassroots political organization which specializes in campaign strategy, have estimated the commercial value of the e-blast to be approximately $43,000.

The e-blast directs parents to vote in the CISD bond referendum and specifically directs parents and their friends to the CISD’s bond advocacy website. The e-blast from Sally K. Ride Elementary School follows:

Conroe ISD’s unethical – and possibly illegal – e-blast from its schools to parents’ email address to campaign in favor of the $807 million bond set for voter referendum on May 4, 2019, page 1. Please note the link to the CISD’s pro-bond-advocacy page.
Conroe ISD’s unethical – and possibly illegal – e-blast from its schools to parents’ email address to campaign in favor of the $807 million bond set for voter referendum on May 4, 2019, page 2. Please note the link to the CISD’s pro-bond-advocacy flyer.

The Texas Ethics Commission makes very clear that the advertising of the sort which CISD is sending using public resources crosses the line and violates the Texas Election Code. The Commission has explained in its regulations, “it is important to remember that the Texas Election Code prohibits the use of school district resources to produce or distribute political advertising in connection with an election.  Section 255.003 of the Election Code provides as follows:

(a) An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.

(b) This section does not apply to a communication that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the communication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure.

(c) A person who violates this section commits an offense.  An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.”

The Texas Ethics Commission further explains:

“The prohibition does not apply to “a communication that factually describes the purposes” of a measure election.  In other words, it is permissible to use district resources to produce explanatory material about what is at stake in a measure election. However, the communication may not contain information that an officer or employee of a political subdivision knows is false.  The information must not be sufficiently substantial and important, such that it would be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote a certain way.  Violations of the law often occur because someone finds it irresistible to wrap up a factual explanation with a motivational slogan such as:

GOOD SCHOOLS ARE THE FOUNDATION OF  A GOOD COMMUNITY.

or

EVERY CHILD DESERVES A GOOD EDUCATION.

“Another common misstep is to include “calls to action,” such as:

PUT CHILDREN FIRST.

or

SHOW THAT YOU CARE ABOUT EDUCATION.

“Remember:  No matter how much factual information about the purposes of a bond election is in a communication, any amount of advocacy is impermissible.”

Clearly, the e-blast is impermissible advocacy and contains false statements in violation of Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code:

  • The statement “With the project $0.03 increase over the life of the bond…” is terribly false, because CISD has projected that property tax appraisals will need to increase along with the tax rate in order to service the bond indebtedness. Rather than merely a 3 cent tax rate increase, the bond will necessitate property tax appraisal increases close to 60% during the next ten (10) years.
  • The use of the phrase “Key information” in the e-blast extends into advocacy, because CISD seeks to manipulate readers to emphasize certain facts over others. For example, CISD wants readers to consider the projected growth rate of 1300 students per year, but CISD has not provided the critical information that CISD already has the capacity in its current schools and those already under construction to provide educations to the students projected during the next ten years. That is impermissible advocacy but merely providing factual information.
  • “Get out and vote” in the e-blast is a “call to action” which the Texas Ethics Commission has made clear is impermissible advocacy of the $807 million bond.
  • Clearly the phrase “Please make sure that your neighbors, friends, organizations, booster clubs, etc. go out and vote, and make they voice heard” is a “call to action” which the Texas Ethics Commission has made clear is impermissible advocacy of the $807 million bond.
  • The statement that CISD has been recognized for its financial efficiency is a half-truth. In reality, CISD has a reputation for its explosive spending growth which places money for student instruction as a very low priority in comparison to growth of the school district’s bureaucracy.
  • Numbered item 5 is very misleading. While the previous bond’s tax rate increase didn’t occur due to property tax appraisal increases (thereby leading to the same tax increases as those originally projected), this bond requires both tax rate increases and aggressive property tax increases to service the huge amount of debt.

The entire bond advocacy website of CISD is a pro-bond advocacy website, because it guides the reader to emphasize positive facts in favor of the bond over facts which show why voters should reject the bond. The campaign flyer, to which there is a .pdf link, contains numerous legal problems, which this newspaper discussed in a previous article. Please see “Conroe ISD’s Total Lying And Cheating Time Has Arrived, Part 1 Of 3: Spending A Fortune Of YOUR Tax Dollars To Convince You To Vote For $807 Million Tax Hike, Bond,” The Golden Hammer, April 21, 2019.

While the e-blast, and other CISD communications, clearly cross the line into impermissible advocacy which violates Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code, the critical point is that Conroe ISD voters should recognize the unethical conduct of the school district for what it is: the use of public tax dollars against taxpayer interests.

CISD’s complete absence of ethics in its advocacy for this bond suggests that voters should view the bond warily at best. Additionally, where is the Board of Trustees on this issue? Why are they looking the other way in the face of the use of public tax dollars for direct political advocacy?

 

 

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