Members of the taxpayer-funded Tennessee School Boards Association may not like it, but public records laws apply to their organization and they must provide their information to the public.
This, according to a ruling that 20th Judicial District Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal filed this month.
As reported last year, the legal arm of the Beacon Center of Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the TSBA demanding access to the group’s records.
Beacon is a Nashville-based right-of-center think tank.
“The issue that we faced was that TSBA claimed that because it’s a nonprofit entity that it’s not subject to public records laws. However, what we argued — and what the court agreed with us on —was that just because you are structured as a private entity does not mean that you are, in effect, a private entity,” Beacon Center President Justin Owen told The Tennessee Star.
“The judge acknowledged that 90 percent of TSBA’s funding comes from taxpayer money. It comes from mostly dues paid by elected school boards to be members of TSBA. And then she looked at statutes around the role of TSBA. It has authority to educate and train elected school board members, who, of course, themselves are public. It is, in the code, called a political subdivision of the state and its employees are even on the state pension system.”
Members of the TSBA did not return The Star’s request for comment.
Owen said the TSBA “tried to have it both ways.”
“They wanted all of the benefits and perks of being treated as a government entity but they didn’t want the responsibilities and obligations that come along with that, mainly the fact that their records should be public and subject to the Public Records Act,” Owen said.
As reported, 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 at the time that Marren had requested — without success —training materials the TSBA uses to train school board members.
As reported last year, 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.
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