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ICISD Board Meeting May 2024

Architect’s drawing of school campus.
Parkhill’s rendition in April 2024 (pre bond election) of new construction at ICISD campus. Number 7 is the 1909 building.

 

Below is the agenda for the May 13 regular meeting, with my agenda analysis here and my meeting analysis here. This page was last updated on May 29 2024 with an added # 8 about election runoff results and school vouchers.


A. Agenda analysis

  1. Agenda availability. This is a photo of the agenda for this meeting that is posted at the front door of the Administration bldg. The Open Meetings Act always requires a physical posting of every meeting, and it is usually at the meeting location/main offices.

  2. Post election business. Items 3, 4 and 5 should be read as a group. Now that we are post election, the vote totals and winning candidates must be officially recognized. This should be where we finally learn the actual vote totals for and against each of the bond propositions, as well as the number of votes each candidate received. Once those are declared official, then the board itself must re-organize with new officers. I don’t anticipate any change up of the officer positions since two of the returning officers, Carlile and Rey, have been reelected and are the most senior members. (And, they, along with Ashley Hill, are experienced board members who were around during the entirety of the 2019 bond build out, so they have the skills to avoid the mistakes made during that bond package.)

  3. Redemption of bonds, item 9. This cryptic item is where the rubber hits the road for the early payoff of the 2019 bonds. If you are concerned about the District carrying too much bond debt, speaking up in open forum in this meeting is where you might exert influence as a taxpayer to make sure those are paid down as early as legally allowed. (I would be doing so under ordinary circumstances.) The decision to pay bonds off early is made by the Board, upon recommendation of the Supt. with the guidance of the CFO. I made this point publicly at least twice leading up to the bond vote so that voters understood that this was a matter specifically controlled by board members. The District has a good record of paying things down, so I expect the same with this vote. But, the District now is functioning with rolling bond debt for 2019 and 2024 bond elections, so the stakes are much higher. I intend to keep this issue on the front burner so as to avoid this train wreck under former Supt. DeSpain and previous board leadership. As an aside, Supt. Moore has already had to defend the bond financing on Facebook because a citizen has noted that Tom Thorp's Transport is going out of business in 2024. All manner of unexpected scenarios can alter financing projections, from major industrial businesses like Thorps closing shop to the oil and gas market collapsing or going into the negative. Then, after all the bond money is spent and the payoff begins, the District will have to manage the increased M&O expenses associated with the build out. (No one talked about, for example, the increased electric bills of the new 2019 new gym before that bond election.) So, the District is facing years and years of financial uncertainty, and CFO Robert Helms' projections are going to have to be spot on each and every time.

  4. Resignations, new hires, items 12a and 14. Absent from this agenda are the earlier references to “termination” and “nonrenewal” found in these agendas for matters never concluded because the meetings were canceled. As written on this agenda, the Board can vote to accept in open session what “resignation” (?) was discussed in closed session. If the vote is worded something to the effect that a board member “moves to accept the resignation as presented” by the superintendent, then theoretically the name is hidden from public. Theoretically. Again, a teacher/administrator’s name would clearly be public were it sought in an open records request, so failing to state it in the open meeting here only draws attention to the secretiveness. (Secretiveness in this situation begs the question, "What are they hiding?!") The same goes for the folks that are being hired. Those names would be similarly public in an open records request, and so the names of all individuals hired by the District should be stated in during the public part of the meeting.


Architect’s drawing of a school campus from above.
Another Parkhill depiction of how the 2024 bond funds will be used. This is an aerial of the drawing above .

B. Meeting analysis.

  1. Officer Elections. Board incumbents all recited their oaths to uphold the Constitution, and the same officers were re-elected. (Carlile, Rey, Hill) For more on what it means for a board member to uphold the Constitution, see this post. Briefly, it includes that the District can’t take private property by stormwater runoff without first paying just compensation to that property owner.

  2. Vote totals - The Board is required by law to "canvass" election results, which essentially means here they are to approve the final totals by a vote. I have added the final numbers to this election page. The Board voted unanimously to approve those numbers. I estimate voter turnout for this election to be 26%. I am interested in vote totals and voter turnout of the bond election, especially, to help avoid the type of misinformation about election results used by former Supt. DeSpain. Quite often in response to any of my public criticisms of the 2019 bonds he would say words to the effect of, "The vast majority of our community approved those bonds", to attempt to make the point that I was in the minority and could be dismissed. (The 2019 bond package passed by a margin of 123 for and 42 against.) He would never specifically refer to the voter turnout in the election, which is of course a key part of the metric to evaluate how engaged the registered voters are in an issue or candidate. Indeed, I think as this site grows its legs with more voting data I'll be able to argue persuasively that a minority of people in the county are making the voting decisions...

  3. Paying down the 2019 bonds early: The Board approved a 10 year pay down totaling $4,035,000. Added to that will be the bond payment due in August of $1.1 million. Member Chad Koonce said, "I like it", and indeed there is good reason for the entire community to be relieved at the Board's conservative fiscal approach on this issue. Member Rey made the motion to approve, I missed who made the second, and the motion to pay early on the bonds was approved. This is a bit like paying off your credit cards each month, folks. It's different in that securities laws prevent them from paying off everything at one time, but it has the same effect of being cheaper and safer in the long run. I commend the Board for this vote. For reasons discussed in 6c below, there is no reason to assume the District can continue to spend its M&O revenue at its current pace.

  4. Restructuring: In the background, the District has eliminated a principal position and Dr. Jessica Parker will serve as K-12 Principal. John Morrow will serve as an assistant principal and athletic director. This restructuring is in response to Principal Chapman moving to greener pastures.

  5. Terminations: The dreaded “as presented” was used in the post closed session motion at item 14, so all terminations remain in the dark. More on this in the future. I am dismayed by the opaqueness of the Board when it returns to open session and makes a motion using "as presented" after a lengthy closed session. There's no reason for using double speak, and it unnecessarily raises the issue of whether board members are being loyal to the agenda in closed session, as required by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

  6. Budget, CFO Helms' Report, item 8 a: A. Mr. Helms reported that tax revenue estimates are in and they are lower than last years. He attributed most of the $179 million devaluation on each the M&O and I&S side due to the Texas Scottish Rite no longer having to pay ad valorem taxes on its mineral income. HB 456, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2023 and effective January 1, 2024 created a new exemption for mineral owned by nonprofits, and Scottish Rite is a significant mineral owner in the county. This is an example of how school finance projections can go asunder in the blink of an eye and without any meaningful involvement by ICISD. This is a "substantial hit to the tax base", according to Helms. The District will miss out on $513,000 in M&O revenue and $100,000 in I&S revenue. However, he pointed out that 70% of M&O revenue is going back to the State so that loss is not as large as it first appears. That is, the District will have roughly $150,000 less in revenue because of it. (ICISD is a property wealthy district.) Of course, another way to look at that is that the school finance formulas are wrongheaded to begin with and that ALL of the revenue from Irion County minerals should stay in Irion County and NONE of it should go to the State. If you are an ICISD parent not engaged in monitoring and trying to understand how school finance is impacting your child's education at ICISD you are asleep at the wheel. The ICISD board bears the burden for permissively creating an apathetic community who is not engaged in school finance issues. I will be doing an open records request for Helms' report after the close of the school year to better suss out these numbers. One thing the District could do to engage the community on finance matters is to publish this sort of data on its website and point out where the money is going. b. Healthcare consultant: Helm's pointed out that the District has hired Neil Seltz Consulting to help broker its insurance benefits. This is the District digging out of the hole created by blindly choosing the TRS Care alternative under former Supt. DeSpain last year. That caused the District to become self insured to the tune of $120,000 as I discussed here at Meeting Analysis # 6. It appears the District has learned from that mistake. c. Preliminary budget numbers. The budget is currently at a deficit of $262,000 and will be at a deficit of $434,000 for the upcoming 2024-25 budget cycle. "If we could get our employment numbers down we could knock a lot of that deficit out." Helms said. The District is currently at 70 full time employees and 3 part time employees. There was some excellent board initiated discussion about staffing levels during this part of the meeting. I would anticipate based on that discussion that there will be staffing cuts for the 24-25 year. Now, put this in context. Statewide, school districts are experiencing significant budget deficits. Here is a Google search prompt to research this trend. Some, not all, of the statewide deficit is intentional by Governor Greg Abbott as part of his failure to fund teacher pay raises since he did not get his sought after amendments allowing school vouchers. I think the District and community should assume that his hostility toward public schools will continue with a vengeance in the 2025 legislative session starting in only 8 months. (I am amazed at the Governor's apparent continued support in rural Texas when his supporters on this voucher movement are uncovered, but such matters are not really suited for this website. I go to these lengths to make the larger point that rural Texas does not have a friend in Gov. Abbott when it comes to public education. See the update at 8 below.)

  7. Administrative Reports, items 8 a-d: As part of my "how to read an agenda" tag, I've previously mentioned one starting point is to compare the current agenda with previous agendas, see what the "stock" (standard) language is for each, then monitor each month for when the "stock" language is changed and what unique language is added each month. For this month, it is time to recognize that the apparent new stock agenda omits the Superintendent's Report as sub part of the Administrative Report. This is something I've been monitoring for several months now, and I see it as a regrettable development in these meetings. I suspect the internal position is that Supt. Moore provides the board members an administrative report each week via email and/or before the meeting, so no report from her is necessary at a board meeting. The problem for this is that it entirely removes the office of the superintendent from all public accountability and review. In my own children's public education, that school district was so sensitive about public engagement with the superintendent that, not only did the superintendent give a report at each meeting, but the superintendent also gave an annual "State of the District" report at each campus. The reports included performance data slides via Power Point and financial info, and parents and the community were invited to attend to interact with the superintendent to ask questions and engage with the district. The problem I see in removing the superintendent's report from the monthly meeting agenda is that it allows the Board and Superintendent Moore to enter an echo chamber where the only input they are getting is feedback from one another. Eventually they will be able isolated enough to believe their own PR, without any recognition that they are a publicly funded institution with high expectations placed upon them. Add that dynamic to the apparent comfort with which this board has in operating without public attendance at their board meetings and you potentially have 1) a recipe for mediocrity in education...and, 2) graft and corruption when spending down the $55 million in 2024 bond funds entrusted to them. Otherwise, both principals, Chapman and Parker, were absent from this meeting, so their reports (really, updates) were handled by Supt. Moore. Also missing is the Athletics report, which perhaps is an intentional omission because Jacob Conner technically still holds the Athletics Director contract for another month. I hope when John Morrow officially takes the job there will be some meat to this report. I have covered CFO Helm's report above at 6.

  8. School Vouchers May 29 2024 Update. According to this Texas Tribune article, yesterday’s primary runoffs resulted in even more anti-voucher incumbents losing to Gov. Abbott backed pro-voucher candidates. The upshot is that there will likely be enough votes in the Texas House to support vouchers when the legislature meets in January 2025.

Photo of some downspouts.
All stormwater runoff from this southern downspout on the ICISD campus reaches the intersection of 4th and W Fleming Ave, a point that I made to the District in 2020 before the new gym was constructed. Their response was ultimately to dump even more stormwater into the same system, all of which floods the football field. Who ever gets the bid for the 2024 bonds has their work cut out for them. It is far more complex than just the drawings above.

Copyright 2024 G Noelke

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