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NEA Elects New President

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Following a hard-fought campaign for the leadership of the nation's largest teachers' union, delegates to this year's convention of the National Education Association elevated their vice president, Robert Chase, to the presidency.

Chase, who received 60 percent of delegate votes, defeated Marilyn Monahan, the NEA's secretary-treasurer, to succeed Keith Geiger, who will step down this month after seven years as president.

Reg Weaver, a junior high school science teacher in Harvey, Ill., and a former member of the NEA's executive committee, won 70 percent of the vote to serve a three-year term as vice president. He defeated Susie Jablinske, an Annapolis, Md., elementary school teacher and executive-committee member.

The race between Chase and Monahan, two members of the union's inner circle, was widely viewed as a personality contest. Both candidates stressed that their top priority would be preserving the future of public education, although they differed subtly in their prescriptions for strengthening schools.

Chase, 53, who had served as vice president since 1989, has earned a reputation as a thoughtful educator supportive of the union's recent attempts to highlight professional issues in teaching. During his campaign, he called for the association to build strong new partnerships with its state and local affiliates, for it to take more leadership in education reform, and for an era of "new unionism'' in which it would attend to members' professional needs as much as to their salaries and benefits.

"They were both pretty good candidates, but Bob has the edge on experience, having served as vice president,'' said Roberto Cruz, a delegate from El Monte, Calif., who voted for Chase.

The two candidates spent several days before the July 3 election making early morning stump speeches to state delegations lodged in hotels all around Washington, D.C., the site of this year's convention. Although Chase garnered the lion's share of state endorsements, several large states--including Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania--did not endorse either candidate.

Chase urged delegates to get out in front on education reform or risk seeing proposals developed by people who are out of touch with the realities of classroom teaching. "We've got to reform the reformers,'' he said to repeated rounds of applause during talks to state caucuses. "Many of them care more about media and money than they do about change and children.''

Monahan, 48, who has served as secretary-treasurer since 1990, took a combative, head-on stance toward NEA critics, arguing that defending the union against attacks would be one of its next president's major challenges. "This is not the time for quiet leadership,'' she said in her remarks to the state delegations. "Now is the time for dynamic leadership to counter the assault on public education.''

In his keynote address to the more than 9,000 registered delegates, outgoing president Geiger urged the membership to use collective bargaining as a "sledgehammer'' to knock down the "Berlin Wall blocking change and reform.'' Although unions have sometimes been prohibited from negotiating issues of school quality, Geiger said, they need to reach out to school boards and administrators to create shared interest in revitalizing education. "That means replacing contracts that restrict and restrain with contracts that empower and enable,'' he said.

Also at the convention, the union presented President Clinton with its 1996 "Friend of Education'' award. Addressing the delegates, Clinton highlighted the differences between his Democratic administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. He also announced that the Department of Education had mailed every school district in the country a guide on how to combat truancy.

--Ann Bradley

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