With NSBA Departure, Is TASB’s Move Too Little? Too Late?

Graphic by Lou Ann Anderson for WBDaily.

The Texas Association of School Boards announced its departure from the National School Boards Association late Monday.

This severing of ties comes eight months after NSBA’s September 2021 catapult to notoriety with a letter to President Joe Biden which called for putting “safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”

NSBA’s stance was in response to newly vocal and growing numbers of parents for whom two years of COVID-19 lockdowns revealed their children being exposed to Critical Race Theory and other questionable curriculum topics. As the issue gained prominence both in local and national venues, additional citizens (i.e., taxpayers) joined in voicing their shared concerns.

And NSBA’s “ask” was no small matter. The organization wanted a joint task force of federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement along with public school officials to focus on the perceived threats. It also requested “assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks that have been transmitted to students, school board members, district administrators, and other educators.”

Prior to asking for what appears as the full range of the national security apparatus to be unleashed upon dissenting parents, NSBA stated: “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” (emphasis added)

Of course, serious backlash occurred. Parents across the country were rightfully shocked. NSBA predictably apologized as state school board associations began dropping their memberships at a rapid rate. In short order it was also discovered that the White House had colluded with NSBA in drafting the letter. That did nothing to quell the outrage.

Here in Texas, the Texas Freedom Caucus wrote TASB requesting it follow suit in cancelling its NSBA membership and created a petition echoing TASB’s needed exit. In response, TASB minimized NSBA’s comments, saying they “missed the mark,” but refused to ultimately cut ties. TASB also claimed they were not consulted about NSBA’s letter before it was sent, but documents discovered via a FOIA request indicated otherwise.

Documents obtained by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education conflicted with TASB’s “no prior knowledge” claim of the letter. The Texan reported:

Responding to an inquiry from the advocacy group Parents Defending Education, TASB distanced itself from the NSBA letter, saying it was not involved. It also said that it would remain an affiliate of NSBA.

However, documents show that NSBA notified its state affiliates of the letter before sending it.

Parents Defending Education obtained communication between NSBA and its affiliates showing that TASB knew a request for protection would be sent to the Biden administration. While the NSBA specified the reason for this request, the full content of the letter was not shared with affiliates like TASB until it was sent.

The Texas Freedom Caucus believes that this newly released correspondence shows that TASB approved the letter before it was sent, in addition to the fact that an Aldine ISD trustee leads NSBA.

The ties that bind

TASB’s relationship to NSBA runs deeper than many states. At the time of the letter’s issuance, NSBA’s 2021-2022 president was Viola Garcia who is not only a Texan having served as an Aldine ISD school board member for 29 years, but she also served as TASB’s president in 2012-2013.

Additionally, the NSBA Board of Director list included Joy Baskin as one of three “ex officio non-voting directors.” Baskin’s credentials include “Chair, Council of School Attorneys Director of Legal Services, Texas Association of School Boards Texas.”

With these ties, TASB’s continued support of NSBA has hardly been surprising.

Too little? Too late?

Is TASB’s departure from NSBA too little? Too late? It doesn’t appear to have been done for the right reasons or at the right time.

TASB’s May 23 release explained its membership cancellation as based on “the release of an independent investigation that found operational deficiencies and lack of internal controls and processes within NSBA.”

“We have been intently waiting for the release of this independent investigation for nearly two months,” said TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell. “With this report now available, it’s clear that NSBA’s internal processes and controls do not meet the good governance practices that TASB expects and requires in a member organization.”

Might the right time and right reason have not been in the immediate aftermath of the incendiary letter? After all, Texas school boards’ loyalty should be to their taxpayer constituents, not a professional organization. Either supporting the interests of concerned parents is your top priority or it’s not. Hard to believe any state organization couldn’t rejoin NSBA at a later date should a degree of confidence be restored.

And what about the sheer wrongheadedness of what NSBA proposed? TASB’s unwillingness to immediately distance itself from views that promote an extreme position aimed at critics implies TASB’s own (or at least potential) agreement. Either way, it’s not a good look.

Do bond elections “talk” when voters balk?

In the aftermath of the November 2021 elections, The Texan reported Texas Voters Reject Majority of School Bonds on November Ballot for First Time in Nearly A Decade noting that such rejection of school bonds hadn’t occurred since November 2011.

Did the NSBA letter dampen voter enthusiasm for awarding school districts more of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars? Especially when, in many cases, the merit of proposed projects begged for serious, fiscally attuned deliberation with an eye on currently degrading economic conditions.

So here comes the education industry and its next play. Perhaps May elections will find parents having forgotten the NSBA issue and feeling better about the economy. It’s a stretch, but whether operating in an alternate economic universe or utilizing “dumb as a rock” trend analysis, the education industry routinely seems unresponsive, even clueless, to the realities – financial and otherwise – of their taxpaying constituents.

And to that point, May 2022 brought forward new record debt amounts for voter approval – even as economic conditions continued declining – and once again, voters took a step back. The Texan updated its reporting with on how “the same motives that shaped bond and school board results in November seem to remain a factor in the May election results.” With critical race theory and transparency concerns also potential factors, voters passed only 104 out of 205 proposed school district bonds.

The bottom line

We can all wish that somewhere a sincere “we don’t think of parents as domestic terrorists” moment might occur. Sadly, it hasn’t happened nor does it even appear likely. This NSBA severance seems convenient with the TASB independent investigation release coming just after a disappointing May bond election cycle. If the education industry has taught observers one thing, it’s cynicism.

Declining enrollment rates are undoubtedly causing concern. As assuredly are districts in which “outsider” school board candidates have either won or made respectable showings despite significant odds favoring education industry-friendly incumbents or candidates.

An astute – or maybe even not so astute – observer would likely see these trends as indicating the public’s loss of confidence. Public schools, however, too often appear to hang on the “con” portion of “confidence” with no regard for the rest of the word. Despite fancying itself as adept in managing the voter base it theoretically serves, the education industry will have to do better.

Believable, prolonged sincerity coupled with action-oriented outreach would be great first steps toward the industry as a whole and districts individually bridging self-created divides with parents and other concerned parties. That said, policies and aggressive efforts to silence dissenting voices and quash transparency will make it a long, tough lift. It will be hard, but anyone can do easy.

Let’s see (and welcome) if any school districts are up for the challenge of truly restoring confidence in today’s public education system.

Lou Ann Anderson worked in central Texas talk radio as both a host and producer and currently hosts Political Pursuits: The Podcast. Her tenure as Watchdog Wire–Texas editor involved covering state news and coordinating the site’s citizen journalist network. As a past Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity–Texas, Lou Ann wrote and spoke on a variety of issues including the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended heirs or beneficiaries.

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