National School Boards Association at Risk of Losing Millions over State Chapter Withdrawals

People attend a Board of School Directors meeting of the Pennsbury School District at Fallsington Elementary School in Levittown, Penn., November 18, 2021. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

Since the National School Boards Association sent a letter to the Biden administration characterizing parents who protest progressive curricula as potential “domestic terrorists,” dozens of state chapters have ended their memberships, causing the organization to suffer a significant revenue deficit.

As of last week, 17 state school board groups have withdrawn from the NSBA and half of all groups in the country have downgraded their relationship with the headquarters, most citing disillusionment with the inflammatory language used in the letter as well as prior grievances. After the incident, NSBA is now in a financially precarious position, given that the 17 chapters took their annual dues, accounting for 40 percent of all member collections in 2019, with them, Axios found.

These 17 chapters had contributed $1.1 million in annual payments to the NSBA since 2019, according to NSBA records presented during a recent meeting for the Florida School Board Association, which also voted to exit. That sum represented about 42 percent of the $2.6 million dues total from state chapters, Axios calculated. The outlet projected that the loss of dues from the state group departures is only part of the story, as many invested other monies throughout the year for various NSBA initiatives, such as conferences.

For example, the Montana School Boards Association, which quit the NSBA in November, originally budgeted for $68,000 in 2021-22 dues payments, Axios noted. But it spent nearly $160,000 in total, suggesting it helped to subsidize other NSBA ventures.

Alabama was another state to cut ties with the NSBA “due to long-standing concerns with the organization’s governance,” executive director Sally Smith told the outlet in a statement. The letter and reactions from state groups are “symptoms of that dysfunction,” she said.

Some officials in the NSBA leadership objected to the unilateral decision to send Biden the letter, which requested federal intervention, without consulting the state chapters, to investigate and potentially prosecute parents who intimidate or threaten school board administrators, internal communications have shown. The NSBA has since apologized for the letter, but that has not stopped the bloodletting.

For instance, in an email to NSBA heads last month, Steve Gallon III, a Miami-Dade County school board member and chair of NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education, said that the drama “has weakened a national voice for public education.” He said it “has caused further devastation to the already dangerously fragile financial position of NSBA in the loss of revenue in the millions” and “abated coordinated, national efforts around issues of educational equity,” according to emails obtained by Axios.

Some members of the NSBA board of directors were upset that NSBA president Viola Garcia and NSBA’s interim executive director Chip Slaven left them out of the loop on the letter, collaborating instead with the White House to bolster it and iron out the language before formally sending it.

Since the NSBA’s fall from grace, some of the state group defectors have considered forming an alternative to challenge the organization’s monopoly on school board affairs across the country. Given the NSBA’s new funding shortfall, such a proposal, pitched by Florida, Montana, and Pennsylvania’s groups, could potentially put the old institution out of business if the replacement attracts enough recruits and support.

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