The legal arm of the Beacon Center of Tennessee filed a lawsuit this week against the taxpayer-funded Tennessee School Boards Association demanding access to public records.
Beacon officials filed the lawsuit on behalf of Williamson County parent Karrie Marren. Beacon Vice President of Legal Affairs Braden Boucek told The Tennessee Star Marren has requested — without success —training materials the TSBA uses to train school board members.
“Everyone has a right to know what their governmental entities are up to. They have a responsibility to monitor how they are spending public funds and how they are doing their job. Government entities do not avoid transparency obligations just by off-loading their job responsibilities to private entities,” Boucek said Wednesday.
“TSBA is funded 90 percent from direct taxpayer revenue. The TSBA has exclusive responsibility to train the school board members of this state, and TSBA gets to participate as an employer in the state’s retirement program. It’s even been designated a political subdivision. The people of Tennessee have a right to know what they are paying for.”
TSBA officials did not return The Star’s repeated request for comment Wednesday.
TSBA officials said they belong to a private entity and are exempt from the state’s public records laws — and that’s why they denied Marren’s requests, according to Beacon.
Boucek said TSBA officials could explain themselves in court as early as next month.
As reported in March, the TSBA had $5.3 million in assets at the end of 2017 and paid its top two executives $499,000 annually in 2016, according to audited financial statements and IRS Form 990 reports.
Tennessee taxpayers contributed more than 85 percent, slightly more than $2 million, of the TSBA’s $2.3 million revenues in 2016 through Local Education Agencies (LEA- the formal name for public school districts in Tennessee) dues and no bid contracts.
The no bid contracts were a gift to the TSBA, which was organized way back in 1939, provided by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1990.
“In 1990, the Tennessee Legislature mandated that school board members attend one full-day training session each year. The State Board of Education authorized the Tennessee Department of Education to plan and implement the program,” according to the TSBA website.
“The Department of Education contracts with TSBA to conduct all of the training. TSBA also conducts a variety of meetings, workshops and seminars throughout the year to inform board members and administrators about key issues and topics affecting public education.”
Taxpayer funding to TSBA came in at least two forms in 2016, according to the organization’s Form 990 filed with the IRS: $835,632 in membership dues from participating school boards across the state, and more than $1.2 million in these no bid contracts with the TSBA in 2016, paid for by Tennessee Department of Education, to provide “contract services” in the amount of $497,046, “seminars and workshops” in the amount of $242,153, “Conventions” in the amount of $238,197, and “School Board Academy” in the amount of $227,559, as shown on the TSBA’s 2016 IRS Form 990.
– – –