Conroe ISD proposes new bonds amid taxpayer concerns

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Following the failure of the $807 million bond in May, Conroe ISD taxpayers will vote on two new bonds Nov. 5 to address district growth totaling $677.37 million, which CISD officials said will not affect the district’s tax rate.

The $653.57 million Proposition A features $144.25 million for Phase 2 construction at Conroe High School, a new $80.63 million junior high in the Caney Creek feeder zone and mechanical improvements at Oak Ridge High School—all items included in May’s bond. The $23.8 million Proposition B is one item: adding turf to athletic fields.

After 54.5% of voters opposed May’s bond, trustee Skeeter Hubert said CISD went back to the drawing board.

“I believe that the people get it right. … In May they voted it down, and out of respect for that, we went back to the school board and asked them to sharpen the pencil,” Hubert said.

If the bond fails again, CISD officials said major changes—such as rezoning junior and high school feeder patterns, tax rate increases, hiring and salary freezes, and larger classroom sizes—could be on the table for the district.

The second draft

Growth and safety are the key focuses of Proposition A. The main difference between the November and May bond packages is the removal of districtwide projects such as the Teacher Training Center, an agricultural campus and the decommissioning of the Jett Center.

Superintendent Curtis Null said in the process of reviewing the May bond, the board met with various groups and community members to listen to their concerns about the original bond request, which included the overall cost, the presence of maintenance items and the tax rate increase.

“[We] asked them for constructive feedback and guidance as to what they think would be accepted by the community moving forward,” Null said.

As part of the new bond package, the district is planning to use $20 million from CISD’s annual fund balance to purchase land and buses as well as create an annual $10 million capital maintenance fund for the district’s regular maintenance items.

The most expensive item is still the Conroe High School project, which includes renovating and constructing approximately 309,000 square feet for classrooms and athletics areas, putting all of CHS under one roof. The school has more than 100 exterior doors, making it difficult to protect the students who have to go to multiple buildings throughout the day,  Gregg Colschen, CISD’s assistant superintendent of secondary education, said.

One of the most polarizing items of the original bond was installing artificial turf at several athletic fields, according to Hubert and Null. Hubert said the board wanted the turf project on its own $23.8 million proposition to allow voters to be specific with their support.

Divided voters

The May bond saw strong opposition from groups such as the Texas Patriots Political Action Committee.

Bill O’Sullivan, a board member and former treasurer of the Texas Patriots PAC, said he believes the November bond is an improvement from the May bond, but he emphasized the group’s focus on taxpayer relief. The PAC has not officially shown support for or opposition to the bond as of press time.

“We’re going to recognize that certain things are needed, and if they’re needed, you’re going to have to pay for them,” O’Sullivan said.

On Aug. 20, the CISD board of trustees adopted a tax rate of $1.23 per $100 valuation for 2019-20, lower than last year’s $1.28 rate and this year’s effective tax rate of $1.2344, or the rate required to generate the same tax revenue as the previous year.

District officials said they believe November’s two bond packages would have no effect on CISD’s property tax rate if approved.

CISD resident Stacie Jahn said in an email her children go to school in the Caney Creek High School feeder zone. She said she has seen the growth in the area force overcrowded schools to use insecure, portable classrooms.

“Moorhead [Junior High School] cannot even secure their portables due to them being in an open parking lot,” Jahn said.

On Aug. 14, Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Bush commended the trustees for setting ego aside to listen to the voters.

“You thought about what the voters said, and you listened to what they said in May and their concerns,” said Bush, who previously served as CISD’s board president.

Rezoning ramifications

If the bond fails, CISD officials said the district could see major changes in both its staffing and its zoning.

“What we understand is 2020-21, we’d have a $25 million shortfall,” Null said. “You have to find ways to make up that money in the budget.”

Null said more than 80% of CISD’s budget goes to salaries, so hiring freezes, increased class size ratios and limiting salary increases to the minimum could be strategies as well as increasing the tax rate.

If the bond fails, the district may also have to redraw feeder zones, which could affect The Woodlands, Conroe, College Park and Oak Ridge high schools’ and several junior high schools’ feeder zones.

“We do not want to be fearmongers or threatening,” Null said. “The intent is simply to be communicative and up front so that everyone knows exactly what is on the table.”

But whether the taxpayers support or oppose the bond, Jahn said she believes the focus must be on the students in the district.

“The students attending CISD now will be the adults who will be our doctors when we age,” Jahn said. “These students will be the teachers to our grandchildren and police officers who keep us safe. They deserve a competitive education in an environment that is secure with technology that is in line with the times.”

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Andy Li
Originally from Boone, North Carolina, Andy Li is a graduate of East Carolina University with degrees in Communication with a concentration in journalism and Political Science. While in school, he worked as a performing arts reporter, news, arts and copy editor and a columnist at the campus newspaper, The East Carolinian. He also had the privilege to work with NPR’s Next Generation Radio, a project for student journalists exploring radio news. Moving to Houston in May 2019, he now covers the Conroe Independent School District, Montgomery City Council and transportation.
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