Williamson County schools use additional taxpayer money to hire lobbyists

Williamson County schools use additional taxpayer money to hire lobbyists

The Williamson County School System used taxpayer money to hire two lobbyists to visit the state Capitol on the superintendent’s behalf, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission’s website.

The website did not specify how much Williamson officials spent on the two lobbyists, Matt King of Brentwood and Pat Miller of Nashville.

The men have lobbied for the school district before.

For the 2013 legislative session, the school system hired both men for their lobbying services for a sum of $30,000, according to the Brentwood Homepage. The site says Williamson officials paid Miller an additional $10,000 during the 2013-14 school year.

When reached Thursday and Friday, King and Miller referred all questions to Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney’s office. Looney spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said Thursday she was unable to answer emailed questions before Tennessee Watchdog’s deadline Friday.

Pat Miller (photo courtesy of the Tennessee Ethics Commissions website)

Pat Miller (photo courtesy of the Tennessee Ethics Commissions website)

State Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who represents part of Williamson County, said in an emailed statement he’s not crazy about the school district hiring lobbyists, and taxpayers may feel the same way.

“I’ve never been a fan of using taxpayer resources to hire lobbyists anyway, but I find it especially unfortunate that my home county utilizes lobbyists that may or may not advocate the will of taxpayers,” Durham said.

None of the county’s school board members returned requests for comment Thursday and Friday.

The reason Williamson officials hired King and Miller is unclear, but a 2014 Brentwood Homepage article quoted officials saying the two men helped “prevent bills that could have made the district suffer financially.”

A Tennessean article from that year quotes school board member Susan Curlee saying it’s unnecessary for the school system to spend money on lobbyists. The school system, the paper quoted Curlee saying, already gives money to the Tennessee School Boards Association to lobby on Williamson’s behalf.

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As reported, the TSBA’s most recent lobbying expenditures show the group spent about $10,000 on two lobbyists.

The Tennessee School System for Equity, which represents rural school districts, spent between $25,000 to $50,000 this past year on two lobbyists. The Coalition of Large Area School Systems, representing the Hamilton, Shelby and Knox county school systems, as well as Metro-Nashville Schools, paid somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 for two lobbyists.

Matthew King  (photo courtesy of the Tennessee Ethics Commissions website)

Matthew King (photo courtesy of the Tennessee Ethics Commissions website)

The Tennessee Organization for School Superintendents, meanwhile, shelled out between $10,000 and $25,000 in taxpayer money for five lobbyists.

Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, said last month people in education hire lobbyists to expand the scope of their power, increase spending and impose higher taxes. Owen said school system officials should march to Nashville and lobby on their own instead of using additional taxpayer money.

Aside from Durham, members of Williamson County’s legislative delegation, including State Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, State Rep. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, were unavailable for comment.

Johnson chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Sargent chairs the House Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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