Cobb, Marietta school board chairs welcome split with National School Boards Association

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Dec. 3—The chairs of the Cobb and Marietta school boards welcomed news the Georgia School Boards Association had joined more than a dozen other state organizations and withdrew from membership in the National School Boards Association.

The national association "advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership," according to its website; its members are the state school board associations.

The NSBA courted controversy this fall when it sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal law assistance in monitoring and responding to threats of violence against educators and school board members. Such threats, it said, had grown alongside the fiery public debate over mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory.

In citing specific instances of real or perceived danger, however, the NSBA included in its letter a handful of contentious, yet peaceful, protests, as well as a news story about a school board meeting in Gwinnett County that was disrupted when attendees refused to don face masks, as required by district policy.

"The letter that the NSBA Leadership sent to President Biden calling for broad federal law enforcement intervention on behalf of school board members was concerning since GSBA did not ask for it, was not consulted about it, and did not agree with many of the statements it in, but it is not the sole reason GSBA is withdrawing from NSBA," wrote Valarie Wilson, the GSBA's executive director, in a letter to member school boards.

In fact, several months before the letter to Biden, the Georgia association chose to withhold dues owed the NSBA "because of growing concerns with NSBA," Wilson wrote. The GSBA sent three letters outlining its concerns but never received a response, she added.

"This persistent pattern of a lack of leadership, a lack of transparency and general dysfunction within the NSBA organization is exactly what caused the initial concerns highlighted in the June letter," Wilson wrote. "This decision was not made lightly and was based upon over a decade worth of concerns going unaddressed."

Justin Pauly, communications director for the Georgia School Boards Association, said his association's leadership was concerned with the NSBA's finances, governance and "confusion about who (the NSBA's) membership actually is."

Regarding membership, Pauly said the NSBA had been communicating directly to school boards despite its membership being the state school boards associations.

Angela Orange, chair of the Marietta Board of Education, said she agreed with the decision to separate from the National School Boards Association.

"I trust our GSBA leaders," Orange said.

Although the GSBA said its issues with the national body predate the letter to Biden — something Orange was careful to note — Orange did say that letter was "misguided."

"A: (the NSBA) didn't consult with the Georgia School Boards Association about that particular situation they were referencing," she said, referring to its use of the story about the Gwinnett school board meeting. "B: Parents are partners in K-12 education, they're valued partners, and we can never leave parents out of the equation."

Tré Hutchins, a Democrat on the Cobb Board, of Education, was more circumspect on Thursday.

"I am aware of this decision, however, I do not know the 'other' reasons that Georgia or other states may have had with NSBA," he said. "As in any membership organization there may be perceived areas of growth, I find it helpful when there's a willingness to work through those challenges to ensure we all come out stronger and better."

Randy Scamihorn, the Republican who chairs the Cobb Board of Education, welcomed the decision.

"I'm satisfied with the decision and I'm hopeful that we can move forward with a national new organization," Scamihorn said, adding that there was value to having a national organization that could speak on behalf of school boards across the country.

Wilson said in her email 14 states had withdrawn from the NSBA this year. And, Pauly said, those states have been talking about alternatives to the NSBA, though it's too early to tell what might come of that effort.

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