Earlier this week the Arizona School Board Association voted to end its relationship with the National School Board Association, a group which has been under fire by parents, school officials, and legislators for several months.
In her Feb. 16 letter to NSBA, Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams said the ASBA board of directors voted to discontinue membership in the national organization. Harrison-Williams, who is ASBA’s executive director, referenced a missive the national organization issued to President Joe Biden last fall in which the actions of parents trying to be involved in their children’s education were compared to acts of domestic terrorism.
NSBA has since replaced its executive director and launched a third-party review of certain association activities. But that has not eschewed further concern among Arizona’s school district officials and parents, Harrison-Williams wrote.
“Despite these efforts, it has become clear that ASBA’s continued membership in NSBA has become a hinderance to the work we are undertaking in Arizona on behalf of Arizona’s public school students,” she wrote, adding that the ASBA’s primary obligation is to advocate on behalf of Arizona’s students.
“We are unable to do that if we are continually called to account for the actions of NSBA,” Harrison-Williams wrote.
The ASBA’s announcement comes after state lawmakers were asked to support Senate Bill 1011, which would prohibit public school districts across Arizona from using taxpayer dollars to pay for membership in a state or national school board association. The bill is opposed by the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents and the Arizona School Administrators Association.
However, the issue has become a lightning rod among several school district boards outside Maricopa and Pima counties. Many of those boards have expressed dissatisfaction with what they see as partisan political interference by the NSBA. This, in turn, put pressure on ASBA’s board to cut ties with the national organization.
For a long time, school board elections have been one of the easiest to ignore. Maybe it’s because the names on the ballot don’t stand out as much as the candidates for President, Governor, or U.S. Senate. Maybe it’s because people are too busy to research the candidates. Or maybe it’s because voters who don’t have kids—or whose kids are not in public school—don’t see how school board elections can affect them.
But if 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that even the smallest election has consequences. And nowhere has that been more obvious than with the leftist agendas that have taken over Arizona’s school districts this past year.
Due to the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) not withdrawing from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) over its controversial letter asking the Biden Administration to investigate parent and community opposition as domestic terrorists, Dysart Unified School District (DUSD) Governing Board voted last week to leave the association.
The board was split on the decision, 3-2. President Dawn Densmore issued the motion, and Clerk Christine Pritchard seconded. Board member Chrystal Chaffin joined Densmore and Pritchard in voting to leave ASBA. The remaining two board members, Traci Sawyer-Sinkbeil and Jo Grant, dissented.
Superintendent Quinn Kellis said that about three out of every 30 sample policies are based on opinion rather than statute. Densmore emphasized that it wasn’t the quantity that concerned her — it was the quality of those few opinion-based policies.
“Except for the part where they redline the policy about not teaching that you’re biased because you’re a certain race, gender, sex, you know, ASBA recommends we get rid of that,” said Densmore. “It’s just things like that that have me concerned about ASBA.”
Pritchard said that the people once a part of ASBA that made it amazing are no longer there. She described how political ASBA had become since she was elected over 15 years ago.
“I just feel like ASBA has really changed over the years. When I was first elected to the board, it was 2006, I remember going to the ASBA conference in 2006 and it just had a completely different feel,” said Pritchard. “It seems like for an agency or organization that’s supposed to be nonpartisan they are so far one way. And, whether one way’s the right one or one way’s not the right way, the point is that it’s supposed to be nonpartisan. It seems like they’re so politicized and there’s such an agenda and then to not take a stand against NSBA’s action was really disappointing.“I cringe a lot of times when I get their emails because they’re politicized, and I don’t want to be associated with that. And right now we are. It just doesn’t feel good to me.”
Chaffin said that ASBA’s new board member training just complained about “bad bills” passed by the legislature. She said that ASBA pushes certain agendas constantly and doesn’t factor the individual needs of districts.
“I don’t think they reflect our board and our district’s values,” concluded Chaffin.
“And they didn’t stand up for our parents — that’s the biggest piece. And to pay to be part of an organization that stands behind another organization that would make such a blatantly disrespectful comment, I don’t want to be associated with that,” added Pritchard.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel asked the board if anyone had invited ASBA to offer an explanation for not leaving the NSBA. Densmore responded by citing ASBA Executive Director Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams’ refusal to address the controversy head-on.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel expressed concern that the board’s actions would hurt rather than help their district by cutting out a . She insisted that this was based on a national narrative rather than a local problem.
“We’re worried about Dysart. We shouldn’t be worried about a national narrative,” responded Sawyer-Sinkbiel. “I feel that we are trying to take all the things that we have done and throwing them out with that few percentage [sic] of the bad things. So, I don’t think that we should separate — I do believe we should have ASBA to come out and answer what questions that we do have. Put their feet to the fire. Ask them exactly what is going on.”
Pritchard rebutted that no clarification was necessary based on ASBA’s actions. She assured that DUSD has their own legal services that address their policies, which Kellis confirmed.
“It’s not a misunderstanding where I need them to clarify with me. It’s just a change in their mindset or a change in their organization as a whole. It’s the same type of political agenda and they shouldn’t be that way,” said Pritchard.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel challenged Chaffin on her statement that the board had an attorney. Kellis clarified that they do have prepaid legal through the trust, assigned based on the case.
Pritchard said that statute analysis and policy drafting could be procured. Chaffin asked why the district couldn’t use the money that would’ve gone to ASBA and pay
Sawyer-Sinkbiel challenged Chaffin again, asking who they would hire and if Chaffin was suggesting they not carry out their elected duties of drafting policy. Chaffin responded that she was suggesting that they could hire someone if they needed review of drafted policies or if they needed alerts on legislative changes.
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and I’m not comfortable with supporting a lot of ‘ifs,” responded Sawyer-Sinkbiel.
Pritchard challenged Sawyer-Sinkbiel to weigh her pragmatic concerns with ethical concerns.
“What about our integrity? What does that mean?” said Pritchard. “To stay with them when this is who they are just because ‘Well, they can look at our policies,’ and I understand what you’re saying Mrs. Sawyer-Sinkbiel, I’m not saying be willy-nilly, I’m saying they’re not the only organization that can do that job.”
Sawyer-Sinkbiel doubled down after neither Pritchard or Chaffin could name an alternative to ASBA. She said they shouldn’t leave ASBA and instead settle for telling the association what upset DUSD. Sawyer-Sinkbiel insisted that DUSD didn’t know why ASBA decided not to leave NSBA.
Grant offered an explanation of her “no” vote similar to Sawyer-Sinkbiel: insisting that there may be financial troubles ahead if they didn’t plan prior to taking action.
“We just pulled an agenda item questioning a budget item for a department for $40,000 and we asked them to please go back and rework that. Now we’re talking another budget item that is $28,998,” said Grant. “And if we cancel with ASBA, we have no idea how much we’re going to spent on policy support or BoardDocs and it could be more than $28,998. It just seems to me that we should do our homework and come back with okay, BoardDocs is going to cost this amount of money and somebody to do policy support [will cost that much].”
Chaffin countered that integrity was the greater concern at the moment, not logistics. She said that the board has six months to figure out who would fill ASBA’s shoes.
“How long do you want to compromise […] our integrity to be associated with an organization that views parents the way NSBA does, that is very politicized,” said Chaffin. “We talk about, we don’t want our teachers bringing politics into the classroom. Well, this particular organization is flooding our district with tons of their politicized opinions and their views and agendas. It’s a matter of principle to me.”
The back-and-forth between Chaffin and Grant became more intense after that. Grant repeated that she’d like to see the costs before making a decision on ASBA.
“So there’s a price to integrity?” asked Chaffin.
Grant retorted that their decisions as a board have nothing to do with integrity. She also asked who would lobby for DUSD, if not ASBA.
“It has nothing to do with integrity. We talk about taxpayer money — what if the bill comes back at $50,000? I’m just asking the question,” said Grant. “When you walk in this door, we are now school board members. We may have different political opinions outside this room. […] At the end of the day, we have to be supporting public schools.”
Grant also challenged the notion that ASBA is political. She rejected the notion that the association’s emails were political, asking for specific examples. Grant dismissed Densmore’s example of race-based caucuses, insisting that both state and federal governments have race-based caucuses.
Sawyer-Sinkbeil repeated that she felt a personal attack on DUSD would be a more relevant reason to leave ASBA. She disagreed that NSBA’s letter included DUSD parents. Pritchard insinuated that Sawyer-Sinkbeil wasn’t being objective on the matter because of her having served leadership roles within ASBA.
DUSD membership to ASBA lasts through June 2022, making up .25 percent of the district’s operational budget according to the district. ASBA offers policy support and legal insight on legislative changes relative to K-12 education.
The board also approved a resolution related to the decision to leave ASBA. Densmore, Pritchard, and Chaffin voted for it, while Sawyer-Sinkbeil and Grant voted against it. The resolution asserted that parents had the right to parent their children without obstruction or interference from any political entity or government, and that ASBA’s actions weren’t reflective of that statement.
The resolution cited Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s remarks during a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions at the end of September. Cardona said that parents shouldn’t be the sole authority in their children’s education.
“I believe parents are important stakeholders, but I also believe educators have a role in determining educational programming,” said Cardona.
The resolution also called upon the Arizona legislature to pass a bill strengthening protections for parental rights.
The board’s decision came less than a month after voting to end its relationship with the NSBA.
Around three weeks after privately sending an apology to its members for its controversial letter asking the Biden Administration to investigate parents for domestic terrorism, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) posted their apology memo on their website’s news page and backdated it to make it appear as though they’d publicized the apology on the same day they’d sent it.
After state associations began disaffiliating with and denouncing the NSBA for its letter, the NSBA sent its members an apology memo on October 22. Per our original reporting on October 30, the NSBA hadn’t publicized that apology memo on their news page. They also hadn’t deleted their celebratory press release about the Biden Administration heeding their call to investigate parents. As of press time, the apology memo was listed as one of their most recent news releases.
Archived versions of the webpage on October 23 show no record of the apology that they allegedly publicized on their site on October 22. Rather, the news at the top of NSBA’s page that day concerned the appointment of Dr. Viola Garcia to the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). In fact, the memo wasn’t published on their news page until some point between November 11 and 14. That’s when they also chose to delete their celebratory press release about the Biden Administration heeding their call to investigate parents, although as of press time they hadn’t deleted the affiliated tweet or Facebook post issued the same day as the press release.
“@TheJusticeDept’s swift action is a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting public schools & driving wedges between school boards & the parents, students, & communities they serve,” read the NSBA post.
Over the last few weeks, school board members and other education leaders have received death threats and have been subjected to threats and harassment, both online and in person. The individuals who are intent on causing chaos and disrupting our schools—many of whom are not even connected to local schools—are drowning out the voices of parents who must be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety. These acts of intimidation are also affecting educational services and school board governance. Some have even led to school lockdowns. The U.S. Department of Justice’s swift action is a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students, and communities they serve. We need to get back to the work of meeting all students’ needs and making sure that each student is prepared for a successful future. That’s what school board members and parents care about.
They’d also tweeted and posted to Facebook about their letter to the White House on the same day that they publicized the letter on the website.
However, NSBA didn’t announce the apology memo on either their Twitter or Facebook. Initial news reports on the apology memo didn’t link to the post allegedly available at the time on NSBA’s website, either.
Unlike some of NSBA’s other state associations, the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) hasn’t denounced or withdrawn from the NSBA over the White House letter, only publicizing their support for it.
Instead, ASBA has remained silent on that issue indicative of the conflict between public schools and parents – even as those tensions have come to a head in their own backyard. Last Tuesday, it was discovered that the father of newly-demoted Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board President Jann-Michael Greenburg had compiled a secret Google Drive dossier on parents and other political enemies. Greenburg reportedly had access to the drive and sent a picture of it to one of the targeted parents.
One day after the initial news of the Greenburg dossier broke, ASBA announced a webinar event educating members on how to be a good school board president on Facebook and Twitter. The webinar occurred Wednesday – two days after SUSD demoted Greenburg from the presidency in a special meeting. Greenburg refused to resign his membership, claiming that the board didn’t have “all the facts” and making multiple remarks insinuating that investigations currently underway would exonerate him. Both SUSD and Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) are investigating the dossier; Greenburg inferred that at least one private investigation was also underway.
“Being board president used to look easy, even though it wasn’t,” read the webinar description. “Now being board president is even more complex given the amount of public interest in school board meetings. Learns [sic] the ins and outs of board presidency and decide if it’s right for you.”
The event will be hosted by ASBA Leadership Development Manager Julie Bacon and ASBA Interim Director of Legal Services David DeCabooter.
Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) became the latest to join the trend of school boards and state associations leaving the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The CUSD Governing Board voted on Wednesday to cease their annual payment for “National Connection Fees” under the federation, which amounted to $8,620 for this upcoming year.
Only one board member, Lindsay Love, voted against leaving; board member Lara Bruner abstained from voting. The vote against paying the membership fees earned applause from the public in attendance.
NSBA’s national connection fees come with certain perks like advanced and discounted registration for their annual conference, additional leadership and legal resources, insider knowledge on federal policies and developments, national networks, and the latest news.
The advanced and discounted registration to NSBA’s annual conference is the biggest perk. Attendees have access to the premiere vendors and thought leaders in education. Their upcoming conference next April will be held in San Diego, California.
Board member Jason Olive said that he wasn’t aware of any board members attending the annual conference in recent years. Board President Barb Mozdzen confirmed that nobody to her knowledge had gone to the annual conference in four or five years.
Bruner claimed that being part of NSBA was required to maintain policy revisions from Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA). Mozdzen clarified that NSBA membership wasn’t required to get ASBA policies. Superintendent Franklin Narducci added that ASBA reviews state-legislated policies, but NSBA doesn’t.
“It’s my understanding you can be in one without the other, and that they aren’t mutually inclusive of each other,” said Narducci.
Love questioned why they were leaving the NSBA at all. Olive’s reply prompted laughter.
“Uh – so we don’t have to give them any money,” responded Olive.
At that point, Love cited her involvement with NSBA’s National Black Council (NBC). She insinuated that CUSD wouldn’t have representation in the NSBA if they rescinded their membership.
“So essentially [we] as Chandler have direct access to [NSBA] and we impact national policies just by being at the table,” argued Love.
Love’s remarks were met with stretches of silence from her fellow board members.
Bruner voiced her concern again that their withdrawal from NSBA would jeopardize their membership within ASBA. Mozdzen said that the membership fees weren’t due until January, indicating the council had time to revisit the topic until then.
The NSBA has received negative attention nationwide after sending a letter to President Joe Biden last month, asking him to invoke the PATRIOT Act to investigate parents and community members for potential “domestic terrorism.” Less than a week later, the Biden Administration obliged. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo directing the FBI to investigate those concerns.
Shortly after the letter’s publication, open records requests revealed that the White House collaborated with the NSBA in their drafting of the letter. A day after the report on these records, the NSBA submitted an apology letter to its membership. Unlike their initial letter to Biden, however, the NSBA didn’t publicize this apology letter.