School & District Management

Lawsuit Targets Management of Black Educators’ Group

By Catherine Gewertz — December 13, 2005 3 min read
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The original founder of the National Alliance of Black School Educators has sued the organization, contending that its executive director should be removed from office because he has mismanaged it.

The lawsuit, filed last month by Charles D. Moody, represents the latest turn in a dispute within the Washington-based organization, which was formed 35 years ago to support African-American youths and educators. This fall, the group’s then-president, founders, and several of its former presidents raised concerns about the group’s financial management.

At the alliance’s annual fall conference last month, members were treated to two presentations on its fiscal situation: a critical one by its then-president, and a reassuring one by its executive director, Quentin R. Lawson. Each reportedly drew a standing ovation.

Mr. Lawson, who has been the executive director since 1997, said in an interview earlier this month that concerns about the organization’s finances are unwarranted.

He said the group’s most recent audit showed that as of the end of 2004, it had $1.3 million in long-term investments. The organization’s only debts, he said, are its mortgage and current bills. As of last month, for every dollar that the alliance owes, it has $2.70 in assets, he said.

Concern over the alliance’s finances was generated largely by the circulation of erroneous information, he said.

“Churches have problems. PTAs have differences. So it is with organizations,” Mr. Lawson said. “We’ll have differences of opinion.”

Deloris M. Saunders, whose two-year term as president expired last month but who still sits on the alliance’s board, contends that the audit is misleading because it includes only limited data. She said that the group has years of accumulated debt, and that the 110 paying affiliates it had in 1997 have dwindled to 85. The alliance’s sale of stock to pay bills in July, she said, is a sign of how its troubles are undermining its mission.

“We didn’t buy stock to pay overdue bills,” Ms. Saunders said in an interview. “We bought stock so NABSE could invest in programs, and children, and staff development. That’s our mission.”

Mismanagement Alleged

In a Nov. 4 lawsuit filed in Washtenaw County circuit court in Ann Arbor, Mich., Mr. Moody, a University of Michigan vice provost emeritus who remains a member of the alliance’s board of directors, and his son, C. David Moody Jr., who was until recently a board member and the chairman of the group’s audit committee, demanded that Mr. Lawson be removed from office for alleged breach of fiduciary duty. They also want “complete access” to the group’s books and records.

The Moodys said in court papers that because of a “pattern of irresponsible spending and financial mismanagement” by Mr. Lawson and 16 of the 23 board members, “the fiscal condition of NABSE has deteriorated to the point that its mission has been neglected and its future is threatened.”

The organization sustained operating losses in 2003 and 2004, and had to liquidate $265,000 in stock to pay past-due bills, the lawsuit contends. It plans to borrow against its capital assets to meet operating deficits, and last spring, its Capitol Hill headquarters was put up for auction for failure to pay property taxes, according to court papers. The sale was nullified when the bill was paid.

The organization’s $2.3 million annual budget comes largely from conference revenues, member dues, grants, and corporate sponsorships. Mr. Lawson reports its current membership as 4,700, but Ms. Saunders contends it is closer to 3,000.

David L. Snead, the superintendent of the Waterbury, Conn., schools and the chairman of the alliance’s superintendents’ commission, said he has faith in the group’s leadership.

“I have no question in my mind that things are going well in the organization,” he said. “I think all of this is a healthy discussion among the members that will result in a better NABSE.”

Hugh Scott, an alliance co-founder who is a scholar-in-residence at the school of education at Pace University in New York, said he was struggling to understand whether the group was being mismanaged or simply suffering the transitory financial squeezes common to many organizations.

“I’m concerned about whether the organization is financially solvent or not,” Mr. Scott said. “I have different people calling me giving me different stories.”

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