Conroe ISD relied on Orwellian “groupthink” to push bond package through so-called “Facilities Planning Committee”

Conroe ISD relied on Orwellian “groupthink” to push bond package through so-called “Facilities Planning Committee”

Conroe, February 15 – In order to get a favorable recommendation on the $807 million, plus interest, bond package the Conroe Independent School District (CISD) administration relied upon the methodology of “groupthink” to ensure that the Facilities Planning Committee (FPC) gave them what they want. The CISD carefully selected the FPC to make certain no independent thinkers would question any aspects of the spending projects Superintendent Curtis Null and his team of bureaucrats so desperately crave.

The $807 million bond package will almost double the district’s debt, contains about $450 million of waste, spends almost $100 million on maintenance, and has no quantitative education value whatsoever. This newspaper will cover those issues in enormous detail over the coming weeks. This article, however, focuses on the method by which CISD got what they wanted out of the FPC.

What is “groupthink”?

“Groupthink” is a term which originated in George Orwell’s classic novel about government manipulation, 1984. The developer of the concept in its modern connotation, however, was the brilliant clinical psychologist Irving Janis of Yale University. Dr. Janis wrote:

“I use the term groupthink as a quick and easy way to refer to the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures.”

Janis wrote about organizational decision making, including a classic analysis of how the Kennedy administration made the terrible decision to proceed with the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.

Analytical and critical thinking tends to stop when groupthink sets into a cohesive in-group.

That’s precisely what Null and the CISD bureaucrats wanted when they formed the FPC. They wanted a cohesive in-group that would override realistic appraisal of their proposed spending of close to $1 billion.

The FPC’s formation and operation

The CISD appointed thirty-eight (38) individuals to the FPC which met seven times between October 3, 2018, through December 12, 2018. All of the meetings were in the CISD Board Room or at one of five schools.

At every FPC meeting, the CISD administration provided extensive multi-colored handouts which channeled the discussion in the direction the administration wanted. At the FPC meetings, CISD brought representatives from PBK, an architectural and engineering consulting firm, which, of course, has a strong incentive to foist as expensive a bond package as possible upon the backs of the citizens of Montgomery County.

As Montgomery County Republican Party Vice Chairman Reagan Reed has noted, not one of the FPC members was an elected Republican Precinct Chair. There are 96 Precinct Chairs in Montgomery County. It’s incredible the CISD excluded all of them from the committee.

In fact, none of the FPC members are actively conservative at all. Four (4) of the thirty-eight (38) voted in the democrat primary in 2018.

The makeup of the FPC obviously conforms to individuals who want government to grow:

  • 14 of the 38 are administrators and full-time employees of CISD, including Null, his Deputy Superintendent, and two Assistant Superintendents;
  • 3 of the 38 are major vendors to CISD;
  • 3 of the 38 are Chamber of Commerce employees, since Chambers of Commerce have become pro-big-government during the past three decades;
  • 4 of the 38 work for nonprofit organizations which regularly conduct business with CISD;
  • 7 of the 38 are CISD parents, and of those, at least 5 made clear during meetings that they had particular interests in increasing the physical facilities for the particular schools where their children attend.

Several of the FPC members served on previous CISD committees, so the CISD administration knew they could rely upon them to agree with administration recommendations and wishes.

In the FPC materials, there were no materials whatsoever, which the consultant PBK or the CISD administration provided, which questioned the merits of any of the proposed bond package projects.

The FPC recommended 94% of the requested funds which the CISD administration advocated during the FPC meetings. Only one entire project didn’t make the FPC recommendation list, a proposed $9.2 million gymnasium addition for McCullough Junior High School (the largest public junior high school in Texas.) One might aptly analogize this $807 million, plus interest, tax increase to CISD’s “Bay of Pigs invasion.”

One might aptly analogize this $807 million, plus interest, tax increase to CISD’s “Bay of Pigs invasion.”

Now, in order to bring Montgomery County citizens into his monolithic groupthink, the Superintendent of CISD is going around the community claiming to “provide information only.” Null claims that he can’t and won’t debate the issue of the necessity of the bond, because he can’t “advocate” for the bond. Null’s “groupthink” methodology is precisely that, however: advocacy.

What Null lacks – completely – is any analytical ability to justify the bond. The FPC clearly relied entirely on the wish list of Null and his bureaucrats and a demographic study showing that more children will come into Montgomery County along with the adults moving here for which such study CISD paid substantial tax dollars. What the bond package entirely lacks is any quantitative tie to the following questions:

  • How will the bond increase reading ability by the fourth grade?
  • How will the bond increase mathematical ability by the eighth grade?
  • How will the bond increase graduation rates?
  • How will the bond increase successful participation by graduates in postsecondary education?

CISD failed to ask those critical analytical questions nor have they provided any answers, because they have no answers and they have not conducted any critical analysis.

One member of the FPC agreed to speak to this newspaper to give a quote but asked not to have that person’s name disclosed. The person said, “In the Facilities Planning Committee meetings, individuals members didn’t get vocal about any particular projects other than individual schools where the children of Committee members attend. We were a very cohesive committee and enjoyed working together to make Dr. Null’s recommendations as strong as possible to ensure voter approval.”

That’s the sound of “groupthink.”

Welcome to 1984.

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