Conroe ISD engages in secretive, feckless budget process with Board acting as “PowerPoint Zombies”

Conroe ISD engages in secretive, feckless budget process with Board acting as “PowerPoint Zombies”

Image: The entirety of the actual proposed budget, which the Board of Trustees of the Conroe Independent School District review and approved, is one page long. The Board acts as little more than “PowerPoint Zombies.”

Conroe, September 3 – It almost seems impossible, but the Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) Board of Trustees actually makes the Montgomery County Commissioners Court look great in a very important manner. The Commissioners Court spent enormous time going through each and every County Department’s Budget as part of the County’s $336 million Fiscal Year 2020 Budget. In contrast, the CISD Board never reviewed any District Department’s Budget and never even glanced at anything beyond a one-page PowerPoint slide tucked into other slides in the CISD administration’s presentations.

It’s actually pretty disgusting. The seven Trustees reviewed a simple one-page overview for a $550 million operating budget for CISD, which is part of the total of $674 million CISD budget.

The Montgomery County Commissioners Court spent five days in a “budget workshop” at the end of July in order to examine each and every County Department’s Budget. The individual members of the Commissioners Court, particular County Judge Mark Keough and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, met with every County Department Director and numerous other employees to examine the budgets for each department in great detail. Each member of the Commissioners Court, as well as the general public, had direct access to a gigantic Budget Board Book, which detailed every account and sub-account for every Department within the County Budget during the discussions.

The County government’s procedure is not at all unusual, even for school districts. The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, whose Board of Trustees all serve in a volunteer capacity without any compensation, follows a similar procedure to that of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court in which the Board members participate in several days of detailed budget discussions in properly-noticed open meetings.

The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, also a volunteer Board, follows the procedures generally of the Montgomery County government and the Cy-Fair ISD.

The CISD Board, however, acts as little more than “PowerPoint Zombies.” While they held four “workshops” concerning the budget, the workshops were repetitive and brief budget presentations during which CISD Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice gave the same budget presentation each time without any detail whatsoever concerning the almost $700 million in expenditures within the school district.

Instead, the CISD Board would passively sit and listen to the PowerPoint presentations and then ultimately voted to approve the one-page Budget presentation at the top of this article.

What seems the most incredible is that CISD has still not made the actual Fiscal Year 2019-20 Budget available online to the public nor has the CISD administration made that budget available to the Board of Trustees. In other words, the Board of Trustees blindly voted to approve a budget about which they know almost nothing. The Cy-Fair ISD published a several-hundred page proposed budget well before its Board voted to approve the budget. The Montgomery County government also published a preliminary budget of more than 300 pages, so that citizens could review and comment on the budget.

Clearly, CISD’s Board of Trustees merely works for the school district’s administration and acts as a group of passive followers under the supervision of the District Superintendent, Curtis Null, and his minions. The governance of CISD is backwards. The administration should work for the Board which should represent the taxpayers and the children. CISD’s Board of Trustees seems to work for the CISD administration.

Therefore, it’s not surprising how poorly-managed CISD’s finances actually are. Voters rejected an $807 million bond package on May 4, 2019, by an almost landslide margin. CISD’s administration put forward another bond package of $677 million, which the Board, of course, approved after more “PowerPoint Zombieism.” Sadly, if one looks carefully at the $677 million bond package set for voter referendum on November 5, 2019, it’s almost identical to the bond package the voters already rejected…except for one important difference: the $677 million bond package came with a 4.5 cent property tax rate increase, which is higher than the 3-cent tax rate increase which came with the $807 million bond package!

As for detailed information about the proposed $677 million bond package? Forget it. It’s not there. CISD scrubbed its website to ensure that no detail was available about the $677 million of proposed expenditures, so that none of the bond opponents could criticize the school district.

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