Schooled Reporting on education

A Christian college’s courtroom drama

Education | Bryan College sues a nonprofit group over a questionable high-dollar arrangement that fell apart
by Laura Edghill
Posted 3/13/19, 05:24 pm

A March court date looms over two Christian organizations—Bryan College and the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA)—in a conflict laced with Hollywood scenarios like sex crimes and contentious boardroom deals.

The dispute stems from NACA founder Mike Crain’s 2009 indictment on charges of sexually battering a 14-year-old girl and her mother, both of whom worked at the organization’s Dayton, Tenn., Fort Bluff Camp. Crain ultimately was convicted on both assaults—the minor girl’s by his own no contest plea and the mother’s through a trial by jury.

The NACA board negotiated a separation agreement with both Crain and his wife, Naomi, who also worked for the organization. According to court documents, Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College, which is also located in Dayton, stepped into the situation in December 2009, becoming chairman of the NACA Board of Trustees and adding eight Bryan-affiliated members to the 10-person board. John Ballinger, the current CEO of Fort Bluff Camp, described the separation contract in a letter to Bryan College in December 2018, saying it included a monthly consulting fee for Naomi Crain, a generous severance package for Mike Crain, and a buyout for the couple’s home on the Fort Bluff Camp property. For the next six years, the camp made regular payments to the Crains.

“The new board basically made them go away to the tune of $1.4 million,” Ballinger told me.

Meanwhile, Bryan College faced inner turmoil over Livesay’s leadership and the college’s approach to teaching on evolution as articulated in its statement of belief.

In June 2016, Livesay and the Bryan-stacked NACA board transferred ownership of the $6.9 million Fort Bluff Camp property to the college in exchange for a payment of $1. Bryan assumed $900,000 in NACA debt, and the NACA board also brokered a lease agreement between the two parties, committing the Fort Bluff Camp to a $10,000 monthly rent payment once the property exchanged hands. The deal helped Bryan overcome a million-dollar deficit, ending the year substantially in the black.

Livesay then resigned his role on the NACA board, stating it would be a conflict of interest to continue, and recommended that NACA find four new trustees not affiliated with Bryan.

NACA made the monthly rent payments for 1½ years and continued to use Fort Bluff Camp, but a February 2018 independent audit of both NACA and Bryan College finances raised troubling questions about the nature of the agreement.

Ballinger, now president of the camp, was employed as a consultant to perform the audit. He became president and CEO several months later. He claimed in a December 2018 letter to the Bryan College Board of Trustees that the property’s ownership transfer was not only inappropriate but also fraudulent and did not conform to state law. He also said the disbursements to the Crains were unlawful inurement, whereby a nonprofit group makes excessive compensation to individuals within the organization. Ballinger told me he consulted two separate legal advisers who counseled NACA to cut off the payment streams immediately.

Bryan College and the Crains have sued the NACA to restart the payments, both claiming that the contracts are fair and legal. Further complicating an already perplexing situation, the attorneys general in Tennessee and Delaware have refused to intervene. The Tennessee attorney general claims jurisdiction belongs to Delaware, the state in which the NACA is incorporated. But the Delaware attorney general points back to Tennessee since that is the physical location of both parties and the property.

Ballinger said he approached officials at Bryan at least three times to request mediation. “I truly wanted to keep this out of the courts because 1 Corinthians 6 calls us to do that, and they responded with ‘Call our attorney,’” he said.

The parties are due in court for a hearing Monday that could consolidate the Crains’ and Bryan’s cases against NACA. A representative of Bryan College declined to comment for this article since the dispute is currently an active lawsuit.

Associated Press/Photo by Brynn Anderson (file) Associated Press/Photo by Brynn Anderson (file) Scott Israel at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting in Sunrise, Fla., on Nov. 15, 2018

Performance review

The Florida sheriff ousted for lack of leadership in the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is suing to get his job back. Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel claims Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis removed him for political reasons and has no proof of neglect of duty or incompetence.

The newly elected governor dismissed Israel in January, saying that as sheriff he displayed poor leadership both before and during the Parkland massacre, as well as in a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport in January 2017 that left five people dead and six others injured.

“It is lamentable that Scott Israel refuses to be held accountable for his actions,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferré said in a statement.

Critics of the suspended sheriff, including many parents of students killed in Parkland, have called for Israel’s removal for more than a year since it became clear that a deputy assigned to the high school hunkered down in a stairwell rather than confront the shooter during the rampage. The sheriff’s department also received tips in 2016 and 2017 identifying gunman Nikolas Cruz as a potential school shooter but took no action to mitigate the threat.

“The multitude of failures that occurred around Stoneman Douglas points to one thing—incompetent leadership,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.

Israel has defended his actions and those of his department, calling the governor’s move a political power play. Israel intends to run for sheriff again next year and said DeSantis should leave it up to voters to decide if he is fit for the elected office.

The state Senate must decide whether to uphold the suspension, but Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, said senators would wait for the resolution of the lawsuit before rendering any decision. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Wong Maye-E (file) Associated Press/Photo by Wong Maye-E (file) Rohingya Muslim girls in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, in November 2017

Refuge in education

While millions of girls in the United States routinely attend school every day, millions of refugee girls around the world are missing out on their education. A report released last week by The Jesuit Refugee Service/USA says girls in war-torn countries are 2.5 times more likely than boys to miss out on school. Of the estimated 7.4 million school-age girls who are refugees, only 61 percent are enrolled in primary school, and a mere 23 percent are in secondary.

The report’s authors recommended that national education planning address the cultural and social norms that can prevent girls, especially refugees, from attending school. The world today has the highest rate of displaced people since World War II, but the authors concluded their recommendations on a hopeful note, stating that “harnessing the potential of refugee children and youth by ensuring that they have access to a quality education will change lives and create hope for the future.” —L.E.

Charter students-in-residence

A Michigan charter school has taken the unusual step of adding a residence hall in an attempt to provide stability for its homeless students.

“When they don’t have housing, the last thing on their mind is to go to school,” Sam Joseph, founder of Muskegon Covenant Academy, told MLive.

The academy opened in 2014 with the mission of reaching youth and young adults ages 16 to 22 who had dropped out of traditional schools. Over its first few years in operation, school officials observed that some chronically homeless students had poor attendance that hurt their academic performance and overall success.

Just a few doors down from the school, Covenant Hall opened in 2017, at first housing fewer than 10 students. Now the residence bustles with the activity of nearly twice that many. Students eat and sleep there, perform chores, and receive homework help and other forms of assistance.

The Covenant Academies Foundation, parent organization of the school and residence hall, states on its website that one of its goals is to “make the unknowns known.” —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Wed, 03/13/2019 06:23 pm

    "...removal for more than year...", I believe, should read "...removal for more than one year..."

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Thu, 03/14/2019 10:55 am

    Thank you for pointing out the error. WORLD has corrected it.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Thu, 03/14/2019 05:08 am

    As we seem to want to focus on the bad news I would like to see media groups, or news reporters, (and World) post good news first. Why not lead these interesting articles with, "Charter students-in-residence"? Maybe the reality is that deep down we, the readers, are attracted to courtroom dramas and another Christian organizational dispute. Or do we really!?