The Closing Argument: why you should take 15 minutes from your Saturday – tomorrow – and vote NO on Conroe ISD’s $807 million bond, tax hike

The Closing Argument: why you should take 15 minutes from your Saturday – tomorrow – and vote NO on Conroe ISD’s $807 million bond, tax hike

Image: Gregory Peck delivered the closing argument, as Atticus Finch, in the classic movie “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Conroe, May 3 – Saturdays are a wonderful day for many people in our community. You don’t have to report to work. Your time is your own. You get to sleep a little longer.

Saturday, May 4, 2019, is a day, which demands your attention for about 15 minutes, because it threatens all of your Saturdays in the future. Conroe Independent School District (CISD) scheduled a voter referendum on May 4 on an $807 million bond and tax increase, in order to reduce the likelihood that you would vote, so that CISD could count on its base of bond-supporters to carry the election.

It’s the largest bond in CISD history. It’s the largest bond in Montgomery County history. CISD’s financial projections reveal it will result in a 61.7% increase in your school tax bill during the coming ten (10) years.

If CISD’s bond wins the voter referendum, CISD will implement the largest tax increase in the history of Montgomery County, and CISD will raise your taxes more than any tax increase you’ve ever experienced, at the hands of the federal, state, or local governments.

The tax increase comes from two different increases resulting in your higher tax bill: first, CISD will push property tax appraisals substantially higher through CISD’s control of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, which set property tax re-appraisal policy; second, CISD will also implement a 3 cent tax rate increase. Your tax bill is (Property Tax Appraisal x Tax Rate) = Taxes Assessed. Since both the Property Tax Appraisal and the Tax Rate will increase, so will your Taxes Assessed increase dramatically.

Here’s what that tax increase looks like for the average homeowner in CISD whose home has a value of $268,518, according to Tammy McRae, Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector.

All numbers derive from CISD’s financial projections. The numbers already built in the homestead exemption.

For the average homeowner in CISD, you’ll pay $12,124.31 in taxes to CISD alone during the next ten (10) years, if the bond passes. That’s a lot of money taken away from your ability to enjoy your Saturdays, if you don’t take 15 minutes to vote on May 4.

For the average homeowner in CISD, you’ll pay $12,124.31 in taxes to CISD alone during the next ten (10) years, if the bond passes. That’s a lot of money taken away from your ability to enjoy your Saturdays, if you don’t take 15 minutes to vote on May 4.

In actuality, it’s even more than that, however, because CISD is only one taxing entity on your tax bill. Remember, you also pay property taxes to Montgomery County, the City or the Township, Emergency Service Districts, municipal utility districts, Montgomery County Hospital District, and many other entities which take your money.

When CISD pushes your property tax appraisal up, so that CISD can collect more money from you, all of those other taxing entities will enjoy more of your money as well, because your property tax appraisal will be higher for all of them.

When CISD pushes your property tax appraisal up, so that CISD can collect more money from you, all of those other taxing entities will enjoy more of your money as well, because your property tax appraisal will be higher for all of them.

Older voters should also remember that many taxing authorities, such as the Woodlands Township, have not frozen their property tax appraisals when they reached the age of 65. Therefore, CISD’s push to raise your property tax appraisal will hurt you as well, because you’ll pay more money in taxes to those taxing authorities, like the Woodlands Township and many municipalities, which have not adopted the property tax appraisal freeze for your home.

But isn’t the CISD’s bond worth the 61.7% tax increase? Clearly, the answer is

NO!

Where do you go to vote? Please read “Conroe ISD $807 million bond, tax hike VOTING LOCATIONS,” The Golden Hammer, May 3, 2019. Voting is between 7 a.m. on 7 p.m., Saturday, May 4, 2019.

Junk in the bond

Even though the Conroe Independent School District has promised in writing that it intends to spend $1,873,514.31 to “vacate” the Jett Center, a teacher training facility, a Viking funeral apparently isn’t in the cards. CISD plans to spend a fortune refurbishing the building with tax dollars.

Among the $807 million in spending CISD intends within this bond package are the following expenditures among others:

  • $131 million or more on maintenance items;
  • $23 million or more on turf for some sports fields;
  • $245,608,695.65 in payments to architects, engineers, and lawyers.
  • $1,482,998.82 to refurbish the Jett Center which CISD has said it intends to vacate;
  • $405,000.00 for curtains for elementary school stages;
  • $425,000.00 for an air soft range;
  • $204,000.00 for two (2) dance floors each with 4,500 mirrors;
  • $39 million of “contingency,”;
  • $20 million of unrestricted “land purchase”;
  • $36 million of “technology” which will lose its useful life long before the end of the 25-year bond’s amortization;
  • $146,068,000.00 for the extremely unpopular proposal radically to alter the campus and appearance of historic Conroe High School;
  • A wasteful Teaching Training Facility, which would cost taxpayers more than $17 million, when facilities are already more than adequate for the same purpose across the District;
  • Questionable agricultural facilities and vocational facilities which are more appropriate for a junior college or technical school, costing at least $3,618,000.00; and
  • $24,576,592.69 of expenditures supposedly for “safety” which CISD’s Superintendent admitted on February 18 is a sum of money for which they don’t yet know the spending items.

Just those items alone total more than $688,408,286!

Meanwhile, CISD has admitted in writing that they have no metrics whatsoever for what, if any benefit the bond package would have for educational outcomes for children. The bond has nothing whatsoever to do with improving the educational outcomes of children in the school district.

…CISD has admitted in writing that they have no metrics whatsoever for what, if any benefit the bond package would have for educational outcomes for children. The bond has nothing whatsoever to do with improving the educational outcomes of children in the school district.

At the January 15, 2019, CISD Board of Trustees meeting, Dale Inman, a conservative who had recently won election to the CISD Board, proposed a “needs” versus “wants” bond of $304 million as a substitute for the $807 million bloated package. Inman is a problem, because he dares to think outside of what the CISD administration tells him to think and say.

Don’t worry; Inman’s proposed $304 million bond package substitute died for lack of a second.

The following is a partial list of what Inman proposed to leave out of the bond package:

CISD’s failure to include real cost estimates in the bond package so the $807 million bond suffers from gross inflation of costs

CISD has admitted in writing that they failed to take any measurements, do takeoffs, obtain bids, get proposals, obtain estimates, or do an architectural study to support any of the cost estimates. All of the cost estimate numbers – all $807 million of them – are fake numbers which someone inside of CISD’s administration pulled out of the air. One Oak Ridge North City Councilman refers to the entire package of $807 million of estimates as “spitballs.”

First page of CISD’s 50-page spreadsheet of line items in $807 million bond.
Second page of 50-page spreadsheet showing line item expenditures for $807 million bond.

$21,562.50 is the fact which represents the fundamental problem with CISD’s bond proposal. If you examine the backup 50-page spreadsheet where the cost estimates underlying the $807 million bond supposedly are, you find the first two pages shown above.

$21,562.50 is a cost estimate number which appears 117 times and it is NOT for the same type of item recurring frequently. The waterproofing of Armstrong Elementary School is $21,562.50. Installing additional fencing at Bush Elementary School is $21,562.50. Adding lightning protection at Caney Creek High School’s auditorium is $21,562.50.

Moving the decimal around $21,562.50 yields some interesting numbers as well. $2,156.25 appears as a cost estimate 29 times in CISD’s figures. $215,625.00 appears 12 times. $215.63 appears four times. The yellow highlights in the two pages above are some of the recurring numbers.

$7,187.50 appears 90 times and moving the decimal around for that number yields dozens of other CISD “cost estimates.” Adding $46,000 to that number also yields a number of the cost estimates. $53,906.25 appears 12 times. $28,750.00 appears 67 times. $1,437.50 appears 15 times.

That should make you think of Benford’s Law in statistics, a logarithmic equation, which in real English basically holds “When numbers appear more often than they should, that’s a red flag you have a questionable list or invoice.” That’s one of the methods the United States Government uses in False Claims Act litigation when contractors submit fraudulent invoices to the government for payment.

That should make you think of Benford’s Law in statistics, a logarithmic equation, which in real English basically holds “When numbers appear more often than they should, that’s a red flag you have a questionable list or invoice.” That’s one of the methods the United States Government uses in False Claims Act litigation when contractors submit fraudulent invoices to the government for payment.

The pricing appears outrageous.

For example, on page 37 of the 50 page spreadsheet, there’s one item “McCullough Junior High School: Reseal restripe south driveway asphalt…$21,562.50.” The driveway is 24 feet wide by 100 feet long. According to Home Depot, that process involves the following:

Step 1. Get the equipment:

  • Asphalt Sealer, $224.34 for 2400 square feet;
  • Broom or squeegee, $13.99 x 2 = $27.98;
  • Rubber gloves, $15.97 x 2 = $31.94;
  • Crack compound, 20 gallons at $99.80;
  • Trowel or putty knife, $11.67 x 2 = $23.34;
  • Detergent, $7.47 x 2 = $14.98;
  • Commercial driveway paint, $187.50;
  • Labor (1.5 days ($15 per hour)) = $360;
  • Performance bond = $500.

Total cost = $1,469.88

According to the American Institute of Architects, it is appropriate to add another 30% for profit and overhead.

Total cost with profit and overhead = $1,910.84. CISD has inflated the price 11.28 times.

Step 2. Remove gas or oil stains with detergent.

Step 3. Remove grass from cracks.

Step 4. Fill in cracks with crack compound, using the putty knife or trowel, and then drive your car over the compound several times to compress it.

Step 5. Sweep the driveway clean, hose it down, let it dry for 24 hours.

Step 6. Using a broom or squeegee, apply the asphalt sealer and allow it to dry for about an hour.

CISD had admitted that they’ve added 43.75% to every line item cost estimate on the 50-page spreadsheet for lawyer fees, architects, and engineers. That doesn’t make any sense. Most of the items would be under $20,000, so under the Texas Education Code, there is no requirement for architects or engineers.

Does CISD really need a lawyer in order to reseal and restring an asphalt driveway?!

With the 43.75% cost for unnecessary lawyers, architects, and engineers, we know that CISD has inflated the $807 million bond package by approximately $245,608,700. That’s a lot of money.

With the 43.75% cost for unnecessary lawyers, architects, and engineers, we know that CISD has inflated the $807 million bond package by approximately $245,608,700. That’s a lot of money.

When CISD did their last bond in 2015, they had received architectural estimates for every single line item of costs from an outside architectural firm. For an $807 million bond, CISD should have detailed justification for every penny they want to spend of the citizens’ money.

CISD’s demographic study actually concludes that CISD should not issue the bond

Here’s the fifth page of CISD’s demographic study:

 

Page 5, CISD demographic study, January 1, 2019.

This study has a chart at the bottom very similar to the chart CISD has used in all of its pro-bond-advocacy presentations showing that the demographic consultant projects the student population at 76,560 by the 2028-29 school year. The current student enrollment, per CISD, is 63,091 students.

What CISD left out of the analysis, however, is the current student capacity for CISD’s schools right now.

In a videotaped interview, CISD Trustee Skeeter Hubert explained how and when CISD decides to construct new facilities on September 28, 2018. Hubert said, “”We don’t schedule planning a new building or even rezoning until that capacity is 120%.”

Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees member Skeeter Hubert gave a video-recorded interview on September 28, 2018, in which he said “We don’t schedule planning a new building or even rezoning until that capacity is 120%.” The school district’s 2018 demographic study reveals that Conroe ISD then shouldn’t schedule planning a new building for at least ten (10) years, since the district’s enrollment will be less than 120% in 2028 in the study’s projections.

CISD previously indicated that the school district would not build new schools or consider rezoning until student enrollment reached 120% of capacity. When the Children’s Hope PAC caught the school district in a major mistake – because the 120% level would indicate there is no need for the $807 million bond package at all at present (!) – CISD changed its tune and claimed that it adopted a new policy that it would not build new schools or consider rezoning until student enrollment reached 110% of capacity. CISD has never adopted that new policy in any Board discussion since CISD made the initial 120% of capacity pronouncements.

There’s a much bigger problem, however. With the addition of Suchma Elementary in 2019-20 and Stockton Junior High School (and closing of Washington Junior High School) in 2020-21, CISD’s student enrollment capacity will be 72,680, by 2021 without the $807 million bond.

CISD will not reach 100% of student enrollment capacity until 2025-26. CISD will not reach 110% of student enrollment capacity at all under the demographic study’s projections.

Under CISD’s analysis and policy, even the recent phony iteration of that policy, the demographic study does not support the $807 million bond at all.

The $807 million bond suffers from a terrible process which did not allow for open and robust consideration of what CISD actually needs as opposed to what the administration wants

CISD admitted it has no “bids, estimates, calculations, and invoices” for the cost estimates behind the $807 million bond and no “takeoffs supporting” the cost estimates!

CISD didn’t listen to its Facilities Planning Committee, which the administrators recommended to the Board of Trustees for appointment, based upon the Committee members’ willingness to serve as CISD’s political action committee to campaign for the bond. Rather, CISD told the Facilities Planning Committee what package CISD wanted, and the Committee obliged.

On the recommendation of CISD’s administrative bureaucracy, CISD’s Board of Trustees appointed a Facilities Planning Committee which had 27 “community members” who met with 14 CISD administrators, who ran the Facilities Planning Committee meetings while the community members mostly listened. In December, 2018, the Facilities Planning Committee then regurgitated back to the CISD administration the $827 million bond back, which the CISD administration wanted to hear.

CISD’s administration proposed to the Board of Trustees at a January 15, 2019, meeting that CISD could spend $20 million of its cash on hand for some of the projects, so the Board then rubber-stamped the CISD administration’s $807 million bond package to send to the voters for approval.

Clearly, any sort of robust discussion at the Board of Trustees level of CISD is far beyond what the school district’s bureaucratic administration would condone in a top-down decision methodology.

After the Board approved the $807 million bond package and sent it forward to the voters, CISD began an indoctrination process. The main aspect of the advocacy is CISD sent Superintendent Curtis Null, a licensed massage therapist and holder of a doctorate in the nonacademic field of “professional leadership,” into the community to advocate for the bond.

Null denies that he advocates. That’s utterly silly. Null provides a canned speech everywhere he goes which argues in favor of the $807 million bond package based upon CISD’s 2018 demographic study (dated January 1, 2019), which actually makes the argument against the bond, since the school district doesn’t reach 120% capacity of schools even during the next ten (10) years.

Null usually won’t answer questions. Null won’t debate. Null refuses to appear on “It’s Hammer Time” to make his presentation. In fact, the following organizations have helped to protect Null:

The Woodlands Chamber of Commerce only allowed Null to speak to several of its committees and to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Conroe Chamber of Commerce only allowed Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Greater Houston Builders Association only allowed Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Houston Area Realtors, Montgomery County Chapter, only allowed Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Conroe Rotary only allowed Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The pro-bond political action committee, which largely overlaps with the CISD’s Facilities Planning Committee, only allowed Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Woodlands Rotary will only allow Null to speak to its membership. Any organization attempting to present the full set of facts about the bond may not present.

The Liberty Belles Republican Women won’t allow anyone to speak about the bond.

Meanwhile, two organizations, which heard from both sides, the Texas Patriots PAC and the Montgomery County Tea Party, both endorsed “NO” votes with respect to the $807 million bond.

CISD has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning for the bond, using the citizens’ tax dollars intended for education instead to fund a political campaign. CISD has used parent email lists and school computer servers to send pro-bond-vote e-blasts. CISD has strong-armed teachers at faculty meetings to vote for the bond.

It’s a terrible bond package. CISD voters should vote the $807 million bond package and tax hike down and require the district to start the process over from the beginning with full community involvement and transparency and openness which are sorely lacking in this proposed referendum.

 

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