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.
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.