Image: Leading conservative Republican activist Kelli Cook, holding “Vote NO” leaflets with respect to the Conroe Independent School District’s $807 million, addressed the Montgomery County Tea Party on Monday, April 1, 2019.
Conroe, April 3 – The Montgomery County Tea Party voted on Monday, April 1, 2019, to oppose and urge voters to vote “NO” with respect to the May 4 referendum on the Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) $807 million bond and tax hike. The recommendation, which the Tea Party organization’s membership approved by a vote after discussion, is particularly significant, because the Montgomery County Tea Party is the only institution in Montgomery County that heard full presentations on both sides of the issue.
Numerous organizations have only permitted CISD Superintendent Curtis Null to present an advocacy speech for the $807 million bond but disallowed opposing viewpoints. Specifically, the Woodlands Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Conroe Chamber of Commerce, the Conroe Rotary Club, the Woodlands Rotary Club, and CISD have not permitted anyone present a factual discussion of the proposed $807 million bond package but have only allowed Null’s standard advocacy speech. Additionally, some institutions, such as the Woodlands Township, provided Null and CISD unlimited time to present their arguments for the bond package but only allowed a limited time for a factual presentation of the bond.
In contrast, the Montgomery County Tea Party, under the leadership of President Pat Tibbs, invited Null and four high-level CISD representatives to speak before the organization on February 18, 2019. Null, CISD bond counsel Marcus Dietz, CISD Trustee Skeeter Hubert, CISD Trustee Ray Sanders, and CISD Chief Financial Officer Darren Rice were unable to identify any positive educational outcomes from the $807 million bond package. They admitted that their entire basis for asking voters to approve a tax hike and indebtedness of $807 million was demographic study growth projections.
On March 4, 2019, the organization permitted a speaker from the Children’s Hope PAC, the organization seeking to provide factual information about the CISD bond package, to make a full presentation about the bond. During the presentation, the PAC representatives explained:
- The demographic study supposedly supporting the bond package actually reveals that CISD will not need to construct new schools for at least ten (10) years, because CISD has made clear it does not plan or construct new schools until it reaches enrollment at 120% capacity. CISD’s consulting firm, Population and Survey Analysts of College Station, concluded that CISD will not reach even 110% capacity until well after 2028. Therefore, there is no basis whatsoever for CISD’s bond package.
- CISD’s cost estimates are highly flawed. CISD failed to obtain any quotes, bids, takeoffs, pricing, proposals, architects’ estimates, engineering studies, or the like for any of the numbers contained within the dollar cost projections for the bond package. It turns out that CISD has added 43.75% to every cost estimate as well for architecture, engineering, and lawyer fees, even though many of the projects will not require any of such professional services. The bond package contains $131 million of maintenance expenses (which violate the Texas Education Code), $23 million for Astro-turf, $1.5 million approximately for refurbishing the Jett Center which CISD has said it intends to vacate, funds for dance floors with 4500 mirrors each, spending on an air soft range, almost a million dollars on curtains for elementary school stages, and other frivolous expenditures.
- CISD Trustee Dale Inman tried to reduce the bond package to a package of “needs” totaling $304 million and removing the unnecessary expenditures of $503 million. The Board of Trustees would not permit any discussion on Inman’s concerns and approved the unnecessary expeditures of over a half a billion dollars.
- CISD’s entire process for determining the necessity of the bond package suffered flaws from the start. CISD selected a Facilities Planning Committee which would promote the bond politically. Rather than studying the necessity for new facilities, the Committee merely accepted CISD’s administration’s recommendations and regurgitated those recommendations back to CISD’s Board of Trustees, which then approved the $807 million bond package to send to the voters. The Facilities Planning Committee membership then moved on to become a political action committee, as CISD had intended for them all along.
- Rather than focusing on educational outcomes, which CISD has admitted have nothing whatsoever to do with the bond, (CISD admitted in writing that there are no metrics for how the $807 million bond package would improve education within the school district) CISD is merely accumulating money for some other purpose.
The Montgomery County Tea Party’s membership unanimously voted to oppose the bond after hearing both sides present their best arguments.
Kelli Cook, a leading conservative Republican, Chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party Finance Committee, and clearly the leader of volunteer activism among conservatives in Montgomery County, spoke at the meeting about the work of volunteers to oppose the bond package as well as her efforts to get the Texas Legislature to ban red light cameras across Texas. Cook provided an optimistic report about her efforts to succeed in getting the red-light-cameras ban but she reiterated the importance of citizen activism in Austin, particularly with respect to the Texas Senate where the proposal does not have support as strong as in the Texas House.
The Tea Party’s Vetting Committee unanimously recommended the following as the recipients of the highest vetting scores and the membership voted to accept the recommendations:
- Magnolia ISD, Position 1 – Angie Smith (endorsed)
- Magnolia ISD, Position 2 – Adrian Kaiser (high score)
- Magnolia ISD, Position 3 – Sean Ricker (endorsed)
- Magnolia City Council, Position 1 – Matthew “Doc” Dantzer (high score)
- Magnolia City Council, Position 2 – John O’Der (endorsed)
- Montgomery City Council, Place 5 – Tom Cronin (endorsed).
The Montgomery County Tea Party’s Vetting Committee had recommended an endorsement in the Shenandoah City Council, Position 2, contest, but the membership did not approve that endorsement.
Larry Rogers, Chairman of the Montgomery County Tea Party Political Action Committee, a Republican Precinct Chairman, and a Board member of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, said, “I think that tonight proved for the first time that the Vetting Committee has the ability to be overruled by the voting members of the MCTPPAC as our By-Laws provide. The Vetting Committee spends hours researching and developing questions for the candidates to make their final recommendations to the voting members of the MCTPPAC, and tonight the voting members had their voices heard. It was a great example of allowing the rules to be followed.”