Classical Conversations knowingly exposes churches to tax liabilities

(Photo Courtesy of JJ Veale

Classical Conversations, Inc. (TM), Inc. has been the subject of two investigative reports written by Josh Shepherd in 2021.

I was interviewed by Josh and quoted in the first article Whistleblowers Say Classical Conversations is Multi-Level Marketing Scheme that Exploits Homeschooling Parents.

I shared some background information in my blog post Does Classical Conversations Exploit Homeschooling Parents?

The second article titled “Classical Conversations Knowingly Exposes Unsuspecting Churches to Tax Liabilities, Sources Say” was released last week.

It reveals that in addition to exploiting homeschool parents, Classical Conversations knowingly and deliberately has been exposing churches to property tax liabilities.

Background


I first became aware of the problems with Classical Conversations “communities” (they are really businesses owned by a licensed CC Director) in 2017 when a CC Director in Illinois emailed me. She was having difficulty finding a church to host her CC business (what she called “a community”).

I replied to her question and explained the churches were concerned about their property tax exemption.
I thought Illinois was a particularly stringent state and did not think this was a wide spread problem. I was wrong. Very wrong!


Then in 2018 I heard from a CC Director in WA State having the same problem.

I started to realize that CC meeting in churches could be a problem in many states!

After hours of research, calling tax assessors and helping scores of CC Directors, Jamie Buckland of Classical Homeschool Consultant has determined that 47 states have restrictions on for-profit businesses using tax exempt property of churches. Only KY, TX and OK seem to not care much about for-profit use of a property-tax-exempt church building.

In April 2019, a pastor emailed me and explained he has received an anonymous letter with links to my website. This was the first time I’d heard of this letter.

I gave him a lengthy reply.

Then it all exploded!

Letters to churches expose the truth

Robert Bortins CEO of Classical Conversations, Inc. hosted a webinar for CC directors to discuss their opinion on CC “Communities” meeting in churches. The webinar was transcribed by one of the attendees and sent to me.

We also found out that the letter originated in Cincinnati, Ohio, …
Um, one of the accountants that they linked to in their letter lives in that state as well and so we followed up with that CPA to find out if we could discuss this matter with them, you know, as Christians are called to do and also offered to let her speak with our legal counsel so that she could gain a more full view of the matter that was referenced in the letter and that was referenced on her website. Unfortunately, she declined such an invitation. And so of course, that was sad to hear because we wanted to make sure she was well-informed of the laws as well.

Robert Bortins, transcript of “Q and A with Robert Bortins” webinar April 17, 2019

He implied I had sent the letters.

I didn’t. Why would I? I had already posted two blog posts that the letter referenced years earlier.

Robert Bortins came very close to committing slander against me during that webinar. I believe Robert Bortins did commit slander and libel against me in private conversations and tried to ruin my reputation and my business based on social media posts shared with me.

slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation; make false and damaging statements about someone.


I did not send the letters. I do not know who sent the letters. I had no involvement in these letters sent to churches.

Nasty emails came my way like this one:

Because of you, my community has no place to meet. We are moms sacrificing a lot to live off of single incomes to stay home full time with our kids. I hope the money was worth it to you because obviously you don’t care about the people you’re speaking to. Such a stereotypical accountant. Actually, much nastier than any accountant I’ve met. 

Noelle, an angry CC mother

I visited an attorney and she advised me to reply individually to emails which is what I did. She also reminded me that I did not need to speak to CC’s legal counsel to “gain a more full view of the matter” or “be informed on the laws” by CC, Inc. or their legal team. If I need legal counsel, she would provide it to me or recommend another legal expert on property tax law.


FAQ on Churches and CC

In an attempt to get clear information to homeschool groups, CC Directors and churches I wrote a FAQ page. It was referenced in the article on The Roys Report.

And I wrote a a follow up blog post Tax Assessor Clears Confusion on CC Communities Using Churches that was also referenced in the investigative report by Josh Shepherd.


My real concern is for the churches who were innocently or ignorantly (or perhaps deliberately) deceived by CC Directors. The Directors hid the fact that they were business operating in a church.

Some were ignorant of why they were instructed by CC, Inc. to tell a church host “We’re just a bunch of homeschool moms” or “we’re a Christian homeschool program.”

CC Directors, as instructed by CC, Inc., hid the fact that they were businesses operating in a church. Some Directors had the gall to ask for free rent for their “community” (remember it’s really their business) too!

There is a saying that a whole truth told as a half truth is a whole lie!

Yes, CC communities are “a bunch of homeschool moms.” That’s a half truth told as a whole truth. The half omitted is that the CC “community” is a BUSINESS!

The local CC Director may not have understood the difference prior to 2019, but CC, Inc. has understood the difference since at least 2016, probably much earlier! In fact, they sent a cease and desist letter in June 2016 threatening financial damages to a CC mom, April Palmer (as mentioned in the article), who told ten local churches that the CC communities they were hosting were profit businesses.

A homeschool mom tells ten local churches the truth and CC Inc. threatened her with a lawsuit.

Why?

Telling the licensed Directors and churches the truth would damage their business model which depends on churches not knowing the truth that CC “communities” are businesses owned by each Director. It’s crass to say, but it’s all about the money to CC Inc.


My concerns for churches and homeschool groups

I am concerned for churches potentially facing property taxes like the two mentioned in the article and perhaps unrelated business income tax because they believed they were hosting a legitimate nonprofit homeschool program.

And I am concerned that all homeschool groups may be viewed suspiciously by churches. This can make it harder for the legitimate, honest nonprofit homeschool groups to find church hosts (post COVID). I’ve been told of churches now asking homeschool groups for IRS 501c3 determination letters to prove the group is a nonprofit organization.

Shame on CC Inc. for making churches suspicious of all homeschoolers.

Shame on CC Inc. for putting churches at potential risk of incurring property tax.

Shame on CC Inc. for duping your own customers (i.e., licensed Directors), by not explaining the full truth to them, exposing them to potential liability (owing payment of a property tax bill to the church).

And shame on CC Inc. for not changing their business model back in 2016 (or earlier) and instead continuing to reap large financial rewards while putting all the risk and liability on CC Directors and churches.



Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping Homeschool Leaders

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