Dear Dr. Johnson,
The campaign central at HCDE headquarters needs a Tennessee Little Hatch Act study time and education. The heart of the issue is that HCDE utilized our tax dollars to lobby against vouchers with employee time, equipment, and lobby payments.
Here is my point, I supported ESA vouchers for Hamilton County, and so did a lot of families that desired parental choice in school placement, including private. The emails obtained from the server at HCDE clearly presents a full throttle political lobby with our tax dollars. You and your staff spent our Hamilton County property tax dollars for political cause and issue campaigning. I am certain HCDE is out of bounds with their political activity with our tax dollars.
When we the people have tax dollars mandated from us, there is expectation that the funds will be used for the intended purpose. Every penny of public money sent to HCDE is for education, not political cause and issue work.
It is that simple.
The HCDE entered into agreement with an education lobby called CLASS for the sole purpose of ensuring the large school districts received their share of BEP funds from the state of Tennessee.
For participation in the collective lobby, HCDE paid $75,000 this year. The CLASS group is comprised of the largest school districts in the state. It was everyone’s understanding that this lobby was limited to BEP funding equity. HCDE took the political lobby to an entirely new level.
HCDE changed the CLASS pursuit to stopping vouchers with our public tax dollars, including my money.
I pored through emails acquired from HCDE for just one month. The emails are a testament to HCDE abuse of public tax dollars. HCDE ran a full throttle political lobby, and that is just one month
Let’s analyze just one of those emails, because I am in a “twirl” over my property tax dollars diverted from the classroom to a private political issue campaign.
Example Email of Pollical Lobby by HCDE
“From: Johnson Dr. Bryan
To: Elizabeth Millsaps
Cc: Robert Gowan Subject: Re: Hamilton numbers - ESAs Date: Monday, April 15, 2019 10:03:32 AM
We continue to twirl. Thank you. I also met with Sen Watson Friday evening.
Sent from my iPhone On Apr 15, 2019, at 9:54 AM,
Elizabeth Millsaps <email@example.com> wrote:
I just want to underscore what a testament it is to you and your team. He’s completely turned around his option of HCS since you came on board. He was one of our biggest obstacles because he had so little face in your predecessors. Thanks for your hard work and congratulations on a badge of honor!
Elizabeth Millsaps 615.310.1121 On Apr 15, 2019, at 6:42 AM,
Robert Gowan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Assume you saw that Gardenhire is a no on ESA. This is huge. And it sounds like he has a lot of confidence in you and your team. Also huge. Sent from my iPhone On Apr 11, 2019, at 5:23 PM, Robert Gowan <email@example.com> wrote:
Dr. Johnson - We will talk about all of the information in this email and more during the conference call with the other CLASS district directors tomorrow at 3:15 eastern - but we wanted to touch base with you before then to see if you are planning to come to Nashville next week for the meeting with the Governor and when you are planning to be here. As you may have figured out, Hamilton County has become a focus of the voucher fight since Sen. Watson chairs finance. The voucher bill must have 6 votes to clear the Senate Finance Committee. We believe we have 5 no votes (Briggs, Gilmore, Hensley, Yager and Yarbro) and we are working to get one more no or a pass. Senators Watson, Haile and Stevens are our targets.”
HCDE Political Lobby Was About Keeping Millions
The majority of emails between you and HCDE School Board member Jenny Hill were all about loss of HCDE revenue due to vouchers. Not one of the HCDE emails from either one of you discussed the best interest of children trapped in the HCDE critical schools. HCDE emails speak volumes that the only HCDE concern was loss of the per child revenue.
I am glad for the time I spent, I understand HCDE in their true light.
“1250 students in Hamilton County might take advantage of the ESA program 1,250 students x $7,219 per voucher = $9,023,750
State payment: $4,602,112.50 [this would be reimbursed year one and possibly 3 years]
Hamilton County payment annually: $4,421,637.50 [ongoing and growing as students are added]”
Tennessee Little Hatch Act
I decided to take a look at whether public employees of county schools can engage in political lobby utilizing employee work time and equipment with so much zealous and “twirling.”
The State of Tennessee Attorney General described the Little Hatch act as applicable to county school employees, he wrote,
“ The Little Hatch Act also seeks to prohibit the inappropriate use of public employees and property for political purposes. It prohibits teachers from using any building or land owned by a local education agency, including equipment and vehicles, for campaign or political advertising on behalf of any party, committee or candidate for partisan or nonpartisan political office. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-206(d)(2). It also prohibits any teacher employed by a local education agency from engaging actively in a political campaign on behalf of any party, committee, or candidate for partisan or nonpartisan public office, attending political meetings or rallies, or otherwise performing political campaign duties or functions during those hours of the day when the teacher is required to be performing school duties. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-207(c)(2).”
Tennessee Code Annotated is clear that HCDE buildings, equipment, and time for HCDE employees is not for political cause or issues.
It is outrageous that HCDE used our property tax dollars for political lobby money to prevent Hamilton County vouchers, all to keep revenue from going to parental choice vouchers. It is only about money for HCDE.
I wanted to let you know that spending our tax dollars for political issue campaigns is completely unacceptable. Our public tax dollars are strictly for education. Diverting my money from the schools for political purposes is objectionable to me.
Read the Tennessee Little Hatch Act, Superintendent. It is time for your education.
* * *
Many parents who have the desire, and the financial means, decide to send their children to private school. For some it is a real sacrifice.
There are other parents who love their children just as much and want them to have a better chance at life but there is no way they can afford to send them to a better school. Their children are trapped with no way out.
The school vouchers were a way to make a way out possible for those underprivileged children. Why would the school administration, who say they want to give all children the same opportunities, spend taxpayers money on lobbying against the very thing that would do just that? The parents and children deserve an answer.