The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, November 14 – On Friday, November 18, 2022, Melissa Dungan, Tiffany Nelson, and Misty Odenweller will take the Oath of Office as new Trustees of the Conroe Independent School District (CISD). Their first Regular Board Meeting will be on Tuesday, December 13.
Dungan, Nelson, and Odenwell face many perils in their immediate future. This newspaper has referred to the sum of those perils, threatening newly elected citizens who take office, as “the long green arm with warts.” Some people refer to that “long green arm” as the “establishment.” Whatever it’s name, powerful forces will begin to act upon the three “Mama Bears” to try to move them away from their citizen roots and squarely place them within the control of the government insiders the citizens elected them to oversee with piercing doubts.
For new CISD Trustees, the greatest immediate threat they’ll face will come in the form of Carrie Galatas, the General Counsel who has shown a willingness over the years to do just about anything to prevent real citizen oversight, through the Board, of the school district and who clearly has taken it upon herself to act as the “Chief Secrecy Officer” to keep unfavorable facts out of the hands of questioning parents and taxpayers.
Galatas will present the Mama Bears with Board “policy” documents and ask them to agree not to conduct independent investigations or oversight of CISD, even though as Board members they have an absolute right to unfettered information about the entire school district. Dungan, Nelson, and Odenweller should unequivocally refuse to sign or agree to those board “policies” the forms for which actually emanate from the anti-parent Texas Association of School Boards. As new Board members, the “Mama Bears” have no duty whatsoever to agree to any Board policies governing their conduct as Board members. Such a code of conduct only may emanate from one source: the citizens of CISD.
One of the most frightening forces, which will act upon the new “Mama Bear” Trustees will be Dr. Curtis Null, Superintendent of the school district. A serious problem with Null is that he’s nice, polite, kindhearted, and enormously smooth. Underneath all of that, Dr. Null is actually a good guy. That’s the problem. He’s perfect as a Superintendent of a massive institution building its own real estate empire. His suaveness can overwhelm Trustees who seek hard information.
Beyond Null, the entire school district administration is a terrible peril. Instead of allowing free and open Board discussion at formal meetings of the Board, CISD’s Board of Trustees circumvents the Texas Open Meetings Act two important ways. First, the administration lobbies intensely for its positions behind the scenes with individual Board members. Second, at the Board meetings, when serious issues arise, the administration will seek to dominate any discussion with lengthy, boring, usually off-point PowerPoint presentations to seek to put the savage hearts of Board members seeking reform to sleep. The “Mama Bears” should insist upon free, open, and robust discussion of important issues entirely in the public view, not anywhere behind-the-scenes.
“Executive sessions” are also the form of serious abuse at CISD. By using the pretext of discussions with the legal counsel behind closed doors, the Board of Trustees has successfully avoided discussion of the most important issues in public. The “Mama Bears” should act swiftly to ensure that discussions in executive sessions come only in the form of direct legal advice by the legal counsel rather than lobbying by the school district’s administration and conversations among the Board members. Lobbying by the administration and conversations among Board members should only occur in public view of the citizens during genuinely open Board meetings.
The school district’s nonsensical budget process must come to an end. While proclaiming every year that CISD receives awards for its “transparency,” which such awards really just come from pro-government sycophants, CISD’s administration has successfully excluded the Board of Trustees from any true budget process. The Board has merely approved a one-page budget summary for each of the past three years. The real budget, which is several hundred pages, never comes into public view. No longer does CISD make its budget available to the public on its website, a practice in which the district engaged only a few years ago.
If the administration fails to make the entire budget of several hundred pages available to the entire Board and to the general public online at least several months prior to Board approval, then the “Mama Bears” should vote “NO” on the budget and the setting of the ad valorem tax rate.
And, the new Trustees should remember that, under Section 26.05(b) of the Texas Tax Code, the vote to set a tax rate that exceeds the sum of the no new revenue maintenance and operations tax rate and the current debt rate must be a record vote with at least 60% of the members of the board (5 members of a 7-member board) voting in favor of the order, ordinance, or resolution. Therefore, with three votes on the CISD Board, the “Mama Bears” have a wonderful opportunity to insist on openness, full transparency, and a lean budget, as at least one of their votes will be essential for passage of CISD’s tax rate.
Whether one refers to these forces as “the long green arm with warts,” “perils,” or just the “school district establishment,” the Mama Bears must stay on their toes and remain loyal to the citizens who elected them. Now, they’ll work for us, not a group of government employees.