Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed public affairs strategist Clint Brewer in the studio.
At the top of the third hour, Brewer weighed in on the recent court ruling that requires transparency from the Tennessee School Board Association by demanding that they provide their records. He congratulated the president of the Beacon Center Justin Owen (pictured above), for leading the charge in an excellent piece of litigation.
Leahy: We are joined in the studio by our good friend and man about town.
Brewer: When did that happen? (Leahy laughs) When did I become the man about town?
Leahy: Public affairs specialist, Clint Brewer. Good morning Clint.
Brewer: Good morning Mike. How are you?
Leahy: I’m good. He’s the former executive director of the Beacon Center as well as a former journalist. I wanted to bring your attention and get your comments on our top story today. The Tennessee School Board Association Must Provide Records to the Public, Ruling Says. I’ll just read the beginning of it.
Members of the taxpayer-funded Tennessee School Board Association may not like it but public records laws apply to their organizations and they must provide their information to the public. This according to a ruling that 20th judicial district Chancellor Patricia Head Moscal filed this month.
As reported last year, the legal arm of The Beacon Center of Tennessee. Your former employer. Filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee School Board Association demanding access to the group’s records. What do you think of that?
Brewer: I think it was an excellent choice in litigation by the Beacon Center. I think Justin Owen who is their president deserves a huge pat on the back. This is what you would refer to typically as a quasi-governmental entity, right? Its created under the color of state law. It requires the same transparency that an outright office of the government would.
Leahy: Now you said something there that raised my hackles.
Leahy: Quasi-governmental entity. The reason it raises my hackles is that there are so many of them
Brewer: Oh yes.
Leahy: And they are virtually unaccountable.
Brewer: Well, they are unless somebody holds them accountable. And you’ve seen this across the state over the decades with a variety of different entities like this. I’m not sure why the attorney for the TSPA thought they would be different. I think it’s an excellent piece of litigation. I think the Beacon Center needs to be commended. Its terrific work and it’s good work on behalf of the taxpayer.
Leahy: Here’s what Beacon Center President Justin Owen told us at The Tennessee Star, “The judge acknowledged that 90 percent of the Tennessee School Board Associations funding comes from taxpayer money. It comes from mostly dues paid by elected school boards to be members of the Tennessee School Board Association.
And then she the judge looked at statutes around the role of the Tennessee School Board Association. It has the authority to educate and train elected school board members who themselves are public. It is in the code called a political subdivision of the state and the employees are even on the state pension system.
Brewer: Exactly. In everything but reporting structure a piece of the government. There are a lot of these organizations out there and from time to time these laws get tested and I’ve never found the ruling to be anything but what was just handed down.
Leahy: And you know this will not shock you. I’m not a big fan of the Tennessee School Board Association.
Brewer: Mike, I’m aghast!
Leahy: (Laughs) Your shocked and apoplectic.
Brewer: I won’t push back. I will say look, the School Board Association provides a valuable service.
Leahy: Well, it provides a service. And it’s actually counterproductive in my view but I’ll explain why.
Brewer: Being on a school board is difficult. It is really where the rubber meets the road with public service if you are back in your community, right?
Leahy: Let me push back on that because in theory being on the school board is difficult. But what happens is, and here’s the problem with it. This is where the Tennessee School Board Association makes a major error with taxpayer funding in my view.
They have these training for how to be a school board member. They start off with really really bad information about the role of school board members. They say in essence your job is to support the decisions of the superintendent of schools. That’s what they are told in these trainings.
That’s not what their job is. The school board’s job is to tell the superintendent what to do. And this is all been reversed. What we end up with is a bunch of Ph.D. in education who don’t really know that much and are running these school systems and who are bathed in progressive ideology. That’s a big problem.
Brewer: Ok. Well, that’s not outside my experience. I have seen that. What I’ve also seen are school board members who do understand their role which is somewhere between what you are describing and what they are doing.
Which is they are there to set budget and policy. And that is really their role. And the policy piece goes to what you are talking about. You have got to make a hire that reflects the values of the community and then you’ve got to hold those hires to those values.
Leahy: See, they are not doing that.
Brewer: It happens in some places. We’ve got over 100 school districts here so there are a lot of people that serve on school boards and they do need resources and they do need assistance.
Leahy: I would be happy to provide that assistance.
Brewer: I’m sure you would. (Leahy laughs)
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Justin Owen” by The Beacon Center of Tennessee. Background Photo “Tennessee School Boards Association” by Tennessee School Boards Association.